White Sands NM/ City of Rocks State Park, NM

Trip Start Feb 09, 2013
Trip End Jun 30, 2013

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday – March 31    We left Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and wished we had stayed two nights here.  It was so beautiful last night with the full moon and the lights in the distance from White Sands National Monument and other towns above.  The night was cool even though during the day it was almost 90 degrees.  Drove north and then west about 15 miles to visit the White Sands National Monument.  At the visitor center, they had exhibits and a short movie and convinced us to drive the 16 mile loop trail into the sand dunes.  There were pullouts and parking all along the way and at the end many people were sledding or sand boarding on the high dunes.  They had an Easter egg hunt here so today is the busiest day of the year at this park.  It was very interesting and especially to see sand plows clearing the drive from sand just like snow plows in the winter.   We had been told by others that tourists and those from surrounding towns come here for the day like they are going to the beach with food, drink, grills etc but they bring all types of things to sled on from the top of the dunes.  This park is surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range on all sides.  The missile range is where they tested the first atomic bomb and still have missile blasts where the area and interstate have to be closed down for over three hours.  There is also an Air Force Base located just to the northwest of the park.

White Sands National Monument -  This is at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert where mountains circle the Tularosa Basin.  This is a natural wonder of the world with dunes of gypsum sand covering 275 square miles of desert.  These dunes grow, crest and are driven by winds.  The plants and animals have adapted to it as the animals are almost some color of white even if they are brown in other environments.  Gypsum is water soluble and normally snow in the mountains carry the rocks into rivers and then out to sea but there is no river draining from the Tularosa Basin. 

   There are a number of ranger guided tours especially at sunset and sunrise. On full moon nights the gates remain open until 11pm so visitors can witness the celestial light reflecting off the dunes.  Where we stayed 15 miles away we were able to see the dunes lighted up by the full moon the night before and it was amazing!

White Sands Missile Range -  On July 16,1945 (the year I was born) the first man-made atomic explosion sent a huge multicolored cloud surging to an altitude of 40,000 feet.  What remains today is a sloping crater at Trinity Site.  Since then this area has been used for rocket testing and then in the 60's this desert was used for testing the lunar module engines that the Apollo astronauts used on the moon surface.   Today, it is still used for testing for the US Military, foreign nations and private industry especially for laser, radar and flight research.  This is open to the public but you need a permit and ID to get in.  19 miles east of Las Cruces there is a White Sands Missile Range Museum that is highly recommended to visit but it was not open on Sunday.  The history of our country missile programs and the atomic age are shown through artifacts, displays and photographs.  In the outdoor park 60 rockets and missiles are displayed even a German V-2 rocket is exhibited.  While we were driving along the highway overlooking the museum the rest area above had a rocket displayed.

Las Cruces -  As we drove west on 70 we had to drive through the city of Las Cruces, NM.  We needed to continue on interstate 10 west and there is no easy way to connect except for driving about 15 miles through the city.  We were warned that traffic from Las Cruces to the Airforce Base and Missile Base up near Alamogordo could be a nightmare.  This was on a Sunday and it was bad so I just can’t imagine driving it during rush hour.  Las Cruces is named because it is here that the Mescalero Apaches put up crosses to mark the deaths of white settlers ambushed by them.  It was also used for intimidation as the wagon trains came through.  Then the city became a major supply point for mining operations and forts that protected the trade routes to Santa Fe.  This is a big farming area because the Rio Grande irrigates the fields (we didn’t see any water).  This area is known for the alfalfa, chilies, onions, corn, cotton and pecans.  New Mexico State University is also located here.

   I can’t say I was impressed with this town or city.  There are a lot of housing developments here but still this region looks poor.  We also had another border crossing stop on interstate 10 heading to Deming.

  Deming -The town of Deming was our next stop before we headed north to get to our campground The City of Rocks State Park.  We filled up with gas and made a Wal-Mart stop for supplies.  Deming is known for the fields of chilies surrounding the town in the valley and have many of the same crops as Las Cruces except they have grapes and a couple of award winning wineries.  What is really interesting here is that the Mimbres River supplies water from the north of the town for all the farming and then it goes underground or vanishes and does not reappear until it comes out as a lake in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  That was the sister city on the border when we had left Big Bend National Park.  When we left Deming heading north we saw about ten little sandstorms and one was big.  The sand was blowing like a tornado but it did not reach our road.  There are warnings all over to watch out for sandstorms not only here but in this part of the country.  We were also warned about the Monsoons that come in during the month of April with all the flash floods.  I think we will be out of monsoon area in about three days.

   We were to spend one night at the City of Rocks State Park about 25 miles north of Deming and 20 miles south of Silver City known for silver and copper mining and an interesting city itself.  I wanted to head north the next day and go to the Gila National Forest and stay at a campground that was a ranch with hot springs and visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  There are seven natural cavities in the face of a cliff 175 ft above the canyon floor.  Five of these caves contain rooms from the 13th century by the people of Mogollan culture.  There is self guiding tours and ranger tours every day to the dwelling over two miles in distance.   We have seen cliff dwelling before but were interested in seeing these.

But ----the drive from Silver City north up route 15 for the first 18 miles is limited to those vehicles under 20 ft and everyone has told me that it is the worse road to drive in the nation.  Little room to move, no center line, cliffs without guardrails, one needs to hug to the right all the time.  We could have avoided that by taking route 35 which was about 20 miles longer but a little easier but still it went over the Continental Divide.  When the two roads meet there is another 18 miles of switchbacks of 10 to 12% grades until you reach the cliff dwellings.  We were going to go because we met some couples that said Class A rigs make it up there and it wasn’t bad driving it in their cars.  Then we met a number of couples and two hosts at this campground that said we were crazy to even think going up there.  They said it was not comfortable, not safe and it wasn’t worth it.  When the mountain book I have said that it was one tough mountain even in the car and that it was one of the worst mountain drives in the nation we decided not to go.   So we spent another day at City of the Rocks State Park and did a lot of hiking around the rocks and really enjoyed ourselves.  This park is also known for its star gazing.  Maybe if we were still in our twenties we might have driven to the Cliff Dwellings.  Late in the afternoon who comes to our camper this camper from Maine with one of his dogs.  We had met him now about three times in Florida, and Texas at a few campgrounds and visitor centers.  He and his wife just pulled into this park this afternoon.  They have a trailer so they unhooked and drove their truck up route 35 and then back down 15 to Silver City.  They did not go all the way up to the Cliff Dwellings and he said we made the right decision because it was scary as hell the part he drove.

   So we stayed another day but had to move to another site since our site was reserved for the second night.  We hiked around the rocks with a map showing where all the  Petroglyphs were in some of the rock campsites.  It was really fun to try to find and spot the Petroglyphs.   They differ from pictographs in that they are carved or engraved into the rock instead of simply being painted upon it.  That is why many are still preserved but still fragile. Glad we stayed another night.  Tomorrow we will be staying overnight as part of the Harvest Host program in a winery in Deming before we get back on interstate 10 and cross into Arizona.

Sunday, March 31 – Easter – City of Rocks State Park, Faywood, NM.  This is another NM state park located about 20 miles south of Silver City.  There are 45 no hookup campsites located among the rocks that were formed by a large volcanic eruption millions of years ago.  These sites are unique and on the Sunday that we were there many were rented out just for the day for picnics.  There are also 10 sites with water and electricity located at the southern part of the campground and only three of these can be reserved.   The site we had was a very nice pull through with a covered table facing the rocks.  It cost us $24 and $10 of that was a reservation fee.  They had some trouble with those camping on one site but the rangers and volunteers seem to handle it very well.  Rules of camping were not followed – loud past quiet hours, 6 cars at site and more than 8 people.  Parking in other sites.  It was Easter Sunday so extended families came out to enjoy the day.  We have camped for over 50 years and are finding that rules need to be posted because the old values are not taught anymore.  At the campground there is a Botanical Garden, Educational Tours and walks, hiking trail that lead to Petroglyphs, Star Observatory and Wildlife viewing.  There is also a Visitor Center with exhibits and movie about the park.  We found the volunteers and staff working the center and the campground very helpful and informative.  New Mexico needs to put the money back into the state park by hiring more rangers.  National and State Parks are the jewels of our county.
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