It occurs to me, of all the states I have lived in, Texas, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia, none have been “land locked.” I have always had access to the ocean. Maybe it required a drive for five hours, but I could still get there in a weekend. So as I sit at the picnic table at White Sands Monument observing the different families, I realize this “monument” is not just a tourist attraction for nomads and bucket listers. This is New Mexico’s beach!
People come and go here for so much more than just the phenomenal scenery. I sit and watch families picnicking, playing horseshoes, flying kites, sunbathing, hiking, bike riding, and back-country camping….all in the dunes.
But by far, the most ubiquitous sport seen within the monument is the Flying Saucer. Conversation overheard at the Alamogordo WalMart: “Excuse me sir, do you guys carry sleds?” “You mean saucers?” “Yes, please. That’s it. A Saucer. A flying saucer. For a 59 year old.” “They are right in the center of the toy aisle….Oh, and ma’am? Don’t forget to get your wax on.”
There are some places that resonate with me more than others. Something about the White Sands Monument grabbed me and won’t let go. Especially in the quiet, lonely hours of the end of the day, or early morning light. I arrived at sunset last night to grab a few photos, and loved it so much, I was back in time for the gate to open this morning, and stayed all day until sunset once again.
I would have loved to come for sunrise, but it costs an absurd $50 per extra hour fee for sunrise photography, because the gates don’t otherwise open until 8:00am, so they have to pay a Park Ranger to come early to open the gate. Since when do Park Rangers make $50 an hour?? And what is wrong with me that I considered paying it for one brief moment? To be all alone in the park, as the dunes light up…aaahhh.
I wish I had asked more questions about the back country camping. The first ranger I asked said you had to hike in. I thought he meant from the Visitor’s Center, which would have been several miles carrying gear. But I later learned that you can drive to the trail head. You only have to hike in a mile or so, and on a clear night, you really only need a sleeping bag, food and water. So I could have left the Winnie at the trail head, and taken my star-gazing tent and mummy sleeping bag, no problem! I already regret not having done that. I don’t like leaving a place with regrets, because it feels like unfinished business.
I think it is the desolate, quiet solitude of the place that pulls me in. The sound of absolutely nothing but a little wind blowing over the ripples in the sand, so delicately reshaping each formation, from the tiniest ledge to the entire dune field.
I have no words to describe the feeling of standing atop one of these dunes, the cold soft sand beneath my bare feet, looking at the pristine landscape, the mountains in the distance. The clean, while perfect but ever changing lines of the slip face. It would be so easy to lose oneself here. Physically as well as mentally. Footprints disappear with the wind, to be replaced by thoughts of isolation and submission. Subjugation to the elements.
“Anything that lives where it would seem that nothing could live, enduring extremes of heat and cold, sunlight and storm, parching aridity and sudden cloudbursts, among burnt rocks and shifting sands, any such creature, beast, bird, or flower, testifies to the grandeur and heroism inherent in all forms of life. Including the human. Even in us.” ~ Edward Abbey