The Great Southwest Trip 2017


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Thursday, September 21

We got up early and drove the ten miles to White Sands National Monument, which is a place we had both agreed would be awesome to see. We saw something else awesome on the way there, too, that we went back to later in the day...

White Sands NM is made up of gypsum sand (which is, of course, white) and is created by the wind that blows from Lake Lucero. The map to the left shows that there are basically four sections- three trails and a hiking/camping area. The 'Cooperative Use' section is a military-controlled 'no access' area, except that once in a while there is a ranger-led tour out there...but nobody is allowed to just wander out there alone.
First we took the Playa trail, which was an easy half-mile out-and-back trail. New Mexico Tansyaster Kelly is reading the sign, and beyond her you can see the playa. And off she goes, down into the playa!
The butterfly is a Cabbage White Butterfly; the yellow plant is Threadleaf Glowwort; the third picture is of the dunes proper. Notice how the flat area is full of vegetation...there is a lot of plant and animal life here. I thought, before I saw it, that it would just be bare sand dunes. I was so wrong!
After the playa hike, we went to hike the Dune Life loop. This bird was in the fence around the parking area, checking us out.
This is what the dunes looked like. There are a lot of plants, including our old friend the Soaptree Yucca!
These are mostly mice and beetles and I'm not sure what the first two on the bottom are...probably some kind of lizard.
The center of a Rio Grande Cottonwood. These weren't tall trees, they were more like big bushes or shrubs because there isn't that much water. Grass shadows! Our friend, again. There were wonderful tree skeletons here too.

Common thread-waisted wasp

Woolly Paperflower

Spectacle Pod

I think this is Woodhouse's Bahia

Purple Sand Verbena, one more shot of the beautiful white sand, and there's Boudika, waiting patiently for us. We finished this walk around 10:30 am, and it was perfect timing; we had the dunes to ourselves, but several groups of people were starting out as we finished.
This boardwalk had signs about plants and animals in the area. This is Hoary Rosemary Mint. Little Bluestem. There's a wild animal! Run! Oh, it's just Kelly... And again, Our Friend the Soaptree Yucca.
More animal information, and another beautiful view of Our Friend. And a picture of an AWESOME lizard that we didn't see...
When I was a kid, my family went to Death Valley all the time. And I had one of those snow saucers that's a big shallow bowl that you sit in and hold the handles and go down a snow hill...only we'd take it to Death Valley and use it on the sand dunes. I have pictures of my mom and us kids doing this, and I'm about six. I loved that saucer, and only got rid of it a few years ago...the paint on the bottom was all scratched with sand.

So on this Friday morning, as we were checking out of the KOA, I was talking to the guy behind the desk. He said, are you taking a saucer? No, I said, we don't have one. Well, he said, they rent or sell them there but they're expensive. I'll loan you one if you promise to bring it back. And of course we did bring it back...it was so nice of him!

So we drove to the dunes at the end of the road, that have no vegetation, they're just sand dunes and you can hike in them and ride saucers. We found a promising looking hill, and...

That was a whole lot of fun!
And here is where the sand packed inside my shoes when I climbed up and slid down!

Kelly took the picture of the sand cliff, it was about 2 feet high.

It really was beautiful there. And there was a tree full of birds at the visitor's center!
Back to Alamogordo to return the saucer and make one more important stop...ahhhh. Civilization at last.

Then we drove to Santa Fe, checked into a motel, and walked downtown. The walk sign had been turned into a skeleton for some reason...and we had dinner at The Shed, which is my favorite place to go, and the margaritas are DELICIOUS.

Friday, September 22

Friday was an 'errands and driving' day. I had to take my truck into the Toyota dealer for an oil change, which was actually fine; they got me in and out in an hour, and Kelly was all packed up when I got back. Then we went to Trader Joe's to pick up provisions for the next several days, and then we were going to hit the road...but we had to make one more stop...

The Jackalope store! a store I love, and go to whenever I can. There are actually three full stores- one of furniture, one with stalls that sell Mexican, Native American and local crafts, and one that is a 'world market' kind of place. What fun!
In order to do everything we wanted to do, there was going to be one day that we drove a lot...this was the day. We were driving from Santa Fe NM to Cortez, CO, which is a 4 1/2 hour drive if you don't stop...which of course we did. Some of these pictures were taken out the windows as we drove by.
We actually pulled off to take these, it was just too pretty not to.
And notice the clouds...the DARK CLOUDS...that are getting darker as we drive north...
I had never seen this sign before, warning that you might run into a slow vehicle as you come over the top of a hill...and then as we got into Colorado. the sky started clearing up. And the mesas were spectacular!
Here's our campsite, and me reading with a blanket over me...it was cold! Kelly cooked, and while I did the dishes I also talked to various people. There was a guy from Pahrump NV who was the leader of a convoy of TWENTY TWO full-size RVs traveling together (there was a HUGE RV parking/hookup area diagonally across the KOA from us; we were in the nice quiet camping area.)

I also talked to a woman who was new to RV camping. She was from northeastern Colorado, and she said, we went to a KOA last night that was so bad we wouldn't even stay in it...we just took one look and left. I was worried that tonight would be like that, but this place is way nicer than the other place.

Would that have been Cañon City KOA? I asked.

How did you know? she said, in astonishment.

Because we stayed there in 2014 and it was the worst KOA ever!

We laughed and compared notes on that awful place. It was pretty funny.

Here are two beautiful pictures of the sunset that Kelly took. Then after dinner and cleanup, we walked down a path by the river and looked across at the town on the other side. Notice the clouds? And Kelly is scary-face with the flashlight...

And then we went to bed...and it RAINED LIKE HELL in the middle of the night...