Tuesday, January 27, 2009

on more of the southwest

This weekend, Charles and I took a much needed road trip with barely a plan. I had read about White Sands National Monument in the field guide my brother gave me for my birthday, and the pictures I'd googled were breathtaking. So, our only goal for the weekend was to see it for ourselves. We ended up seeing a lot more.

We set out Friday night after work, and drove through an amazing double rainbow (I've seen more rainbows in the year I've been in Tucson than in the rest of my entire life). It was rather unusual, actually, the rain storm that had persisted for 2 or 3 days- a droning drizzle, in fact. But these vibrant, full arc, rainbows were so magical... and so unable to be captured on camera. Anyway, we drove east through the rain and saw some of the lovely landscape before sunset. Right around Deming, NM, we decided to stop. We were just over an hour from White Sands. We found a wicked cheap hotel, and watched TV for the first time since... wow I have no idea.

The sun was out the next morning, though it was a little chilly. Driving through Las Cruces and into White Sands the fog was curling around the mountains, and hovering above the towns. It reminded me of the T.S. Eliot line from 'Prufrock,' when he describes the fog as curling once about the house and falling asleep. Like a cat.

The landscape throughout the Southwest U.S. is ALL like that- some beautiful line from a poem. It is so vast and visible. You can see where the mountains begin to rise from the flats. You can see their every wrinkle and ripple and shadow. I don't think I could live anywhere else without feeling claustrophobic.

So we got to White Sands and it was better than all those pictures. We drove through, hiked a bit, and played on the dunes. There were lots of people sledding down, but it didn't look fast enough to be fun. I made a sand angel, though. The sand there is so white because it is made of gypsum unlike most other sand. It is actually the world's largest area of gypsum dunes, taking up 275 square miles! This area is adjacent to the White Sands missile range which is used for testing. There are actually several ranges in the vicinity because it's so large and flat, with a good climate, and far enough from civilization.

In addition to missile testing, New Mexico has a rich history in space. After leaving the dunes, we headed up to the New Mexico Museum of History: a low budget but definitely interesting place with a killer view. From 50 miles away, you can see a white layer on the horizon, that in sunlight resembles a fog layer, but is actually White Sands. It's unlike anything I've ever seen.

After the museum we took a scenic detour into Texas, along Hwy 54. These little highways that cut through the middle of nowhere are my absolute favorite! We skirted through just north of El Paso into the Franklin Mountains, along this gorgeous mountain pass. We then took more little highways back to New Mexico, and began the return westward.

Saturday night we spent in Lordsburg, which is home of this neat little ghost town called Shakespeare that we toured on a previous trip.

Sunday we headed back into Arizona and down to Katchner Caverns, near Benson. This took us through the San Pedro River Valley, where we decided we want to move. It is far from populated, and if you wonder where the phrase, "purple mountains majesty" came from, this is the answer.

The caverns are very new as far as caves are concerned as they were just discovered in 1974. They are very wet as well. No photography was allowed on our hour and a half tour, but it was certainly beautiful (how many times can I say beautiful in one blog?). Picknicking in the sunny scape of the state park surrounding the caves, we got ready to head back to Tucson and daily life.

These little trips are what keeps me sane. The vast expanses of the desert are sweetness to my soul.

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