Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sledding Down the Sand Dunes

After finishing up at Carlsad Caverns, we were off to our next destination – Alamogordo, New Mexico to see the White Sands National Monument.  We were starting to see a few small hills here and there on the way.  Then we went around a curve and BOOM – a mountain.  We were still in what felt like the middle of nowhere… very few cars passed us along the way.  Definitely not a place you want to be running low on gas.  In fact, our drives over the past few days have been in places you wouldn’t want to run low on gas.

We had been driving for a couple of hours and really needed to make a pit stop.  About that time, right on the side of the two-lane road, there was a camel.  Couldn’t resist that stop.  It was actually a little petting zoo with a camel, horses, donkeys, goats, a llama and an ostrich!  And the best part… the restrooms were inside the fence!  I thought it was a port-a-potty, but once you opened the door, real plumbing inside.  There was even a sign that said to be sure to put the lock back on the door because the goats get inside and eat the toilet paper!  Cracked me up!

Ashlee was in heaven!

Emilee couldn't get enough of this!
After a short break, and a few snapshots, we loaded back up and headed on towards Alamogordo.  After checking into our hotel, we went on to White Sands National Monument.  It is amazing to me how the terrain changed.  We went from flat barren landscape to a mountain off in the distance and then white sand dunes everywhere.  Ashlee and I stopped off at the restroom first, and as we were coming out, a woman came running in shrieking about lizards everywhere.  Ashlee took off out the door to see the lizards, and I was right behind her.  Scott and Emilee were already outside and had seen a white one with a blue tail.  We saw several lizards slithering across the path, but they were just too fast for me to snap a picture.  I did, however get a picture of a nest right above the bathroom door.  It was not perched on top of anything, just stuck right to the wall.

Looks a bit crowded!
We went into the gift shop to get the sleds for sledding down the dunes, and then we were off to find the biggest, steepest dune we could find.  The temperature was about 95 degrees, and there was no shade – it looked and felt like a desert of white sand dunes with a bit of green patches here and there.  Everybody wore tennis shoes that morning because I assumed the sand would be really hot.  The craziest thing… the sand was cool!  It was actually gypsum, which is rarely found as sand because it is soluble in water.  Rain and snow in the mountains dissolve gypsum from rocks and carry it into the Tularosa Basin and then rivers would usually carry dissolved gypsum to the sea.  However, no river drains the Tularosa Basin, so the water with the gypsum is trapped in the basin.  The gypsum is eventually broken down into sand-size particles light enough to be moved by the wind to form the dunes.

Scott picked out a fun-looking dune, we all kicked off our shoes and socks, and the girls raced to the top to start sledding.  They waxed up their sleds with the chunk of wax from the gift shop, and they were off!  Scott gave them a giant push and… hee-hee, they hardly moved.  Too funny!  It was different than sledding down snow.  They eventually got a good path going and started going down the dune pretty easily.  Then we all just lazed around on the sand relaxing and enjoying the sunshine and the breeze!

Running to the top of the dune

Waxing down the sled for some speed

And they're off!

Maybe a bigger push would help!


Surf's up, dude!

Daddy getting in on the action

A little bit of help from sis

This picture needs no words.

After our dune-sledding adventure, we headed back to the hotel for some down time before going back to White Sands for the ranger-guided “sunset stroll.”  About an hour before sunset, we met a guide who took us on a one-hour walk around the dunes pointing out plants and insects along the way.  I still wasn’t quick enough to get a lizard picture, but I did get a picture of a bug that, when provoked, sticks it’s back end up and shoots out a liquid that smells like kerosene!  Cool!  When the ranger finished up, we went back to the van to find a dune of our own to watch the sun set over the mountain.  It was absolutely beautiful!  God sure does paint a pretty sky!

Kerosene-shooting bug.  I was not this close... super zoom lens!

Sunset on the dunes

God paints a beautiful sky just for us!

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