We blasted Johnny Cash on the radio, as we left Texas behind and drove on a one way highway surrounded by dirt devils and the Guadalupe mountain tops. We were headed towards the land of enchantment, also known as New Mexico.
Our first stop was Carlsbad Caverns National Park. A park where most of it's beauty lies beneath the surface. Hidden below, are more than 119 limestone caves that used to be reefs 280 million years ago when covered by the sea. We couldn't get out of the car faster and into Carlsbad's gaping entrance into the ground!
As we began walking, the paved path guided us down into a 625-foot drop. The further we walked, the further we were from the opening of the cave, and each time we looked back we left behind a little white hole that grew smaller with each gaze. On the sides of the path were several people sitting down trying to catch their breath and others with flushed faces were cursing the broken elevator. The further down we walked, the more bodies we saw gathered on the sides. It was like that scene in The Little Mermaid where Ursula shows Ariel her garden of men and women turned into polyps or her 'poor unfortunate souls'. No matter how much we “thought" we exercised back in Miami, I knew that would be us on the way up as well.
The one hour decline led us into a magical world- where limestone icicles hung from the ceiling and fields of mushroom shaped limestone covered the floors. Enormous dark holes would make an appearance every so often, and ponds of sulfuric acid bubbled around. I felt like I was back in my ten-year old self’s imagination only to be quickly zapped out and brought back to reality when we began to make our way back up. After a lot of huffing and puffing, we finally made it to the top (take that Ursula)! Our trek left us very hungry, so we set up a picnic on the tip of a mountain top outside the caverns, with a panoramic view of the Chihuauan desert.
Stuffed and very satisfied, we where off to Roswell, NM; a town that is famous because of an extraterrestrial spaceship crashing in 1947. The U.S military stated that it was just a normal weather balloon crash, but ufologists (yes that profession seriously exists) believe that they were just trying to cover up any evidence of the alien landing- oh my. So if you dreamt of being abducted by aliens, Roswell is for you. Except the aliens you are most probably going to encounter are made out of plastic and are in someones front yard or business.
The next morning we rose bright and early, driving through the famous little winter ski villages of Ruidoso and Tularosa, passing the worlds largest pistachio in Alamogordo, and ending in White Sands National Monument. White Sands is the world's largest gypsum field, with wave-like textured dunes that engulf 275 miles of desert. Because gypsum is a little coarser than salt, the dunes are famously known for sledding. We couldn't wait to hit the hills with our plastic sled.
Throughout the drive we realized that we had to keep both hands on the wheel due to excessive winds, and a quick check of the forecast informed us of a wind advisory in effect for the state of New Mexico, and specifically in the White Sands area. We were bummed because we had been dreaming of backcountry camping amongst the white dunes of the park. We pulled up to the visitors center with low hopes of obtaining a camping permit and prepared ourselves for settling with just spending the day in the desert.
To our pleasant surprise the park ranger informed us that we were allowed to backcountry camp if we could handle a little bit of sand. Are you kidding me? Of course we can handle a little sand (we had no idea what was in store for us). So, the papers were signed, the fee was paid, and our backcountry permit was issued. Our first stop was having lunch in one of the most interesting picnic tables I have ever sat at, before heading out and exploring the dunes.
We spent the entire day hiking and sledding up the sand dunes, until it was time to set up camp. We parked our car, filled our packs with our gear and food, and set on a mile and a half hike over the dunes to our designated spot. Along the way, the wind started to dance around us, cooling us down at first from our hike. By the time we reached camp site number 5, the wind became a bit of a bully. It picked up our pillows and flew them around, shoved us down as we tried to set the tent up, and tugged on each of its flaps. We managed to set up camp and decided that we should probably stay in the tent until the wind dies down.
We were enjoying a beer and staring out our little window of the tent watching the sand being tossed around outside, when we realized that we could no longer see the wooden post with our campsite number on it, just several feet from us. Thats when we noticed that the wind had picked up and the sand was slowly making its way inside the tent. An hour later we were in our sleeping bags and everything was covered in a half inch layer of sand. We patiently waited for nine o'clock when the wind advisory was supposed to be over, having to hold the tent up with our feet and hands at times so it wouldn't hit our faces. I am not going to lie, I did envision being buried alive in the sand and may have cursed the park ranger a few times (a LITTLE sand? There was an actual dune being formed inside our tent)! At nine thirty, the tent began to stand upright without our help and by ten o'clock it was as if the conductor had raised his hands to cue the finale.
We slowly unzipped our tent, brushed off what we could of the gypsum that had collected on our faces and clothes, and finally realized where we were. Waiting outside for us, under a full moon, were miles of stillness and hills beyond hills of sand. The 45 mile per hour winds we endured were well worth it for this private viewing. In the morning we watched the sun make its way up from the mountains in the east and light its way through the ridges. We left White Sands very satisfied with our mini adventure with nature and mesmerized with the desert. Although, a week later as I write this, we are still finding bits of sand in our clothes and ears.