Sunday, February 13, 2011

Las Cruces; White Sands

Westward from Carlsbad: we drove along the Guadalupe Mountains, and through a pass that gave Gigantor's exhaust brake a chance to show its stuff under tow. It was awesome at keeping our speed to around 55 on a long descent from 5200' to 4000'. We then drove over very flat land, among dry lakebeds and endless ranchland where the curvature of the earth was the only limitation on visibility. We skirted El Paso and turned north for Las Cruces. 15 miles north of the city we arrived at Leasburg Dam State Park where we were lucky to squeeze into the last remaining available site. New Mexico state parks are popular with winter campers because with an annual parks pass ($225 for non-residents) it costs only $4/night for a site with electricity ($0 for dry camping)! So, you could camp for a year in NM for less than $1700! Hmmmm.....

Anyway, the site we squeezed into affords us a 360 degree view, an adobe picnic shelter, water and electricity for $14/night without an annual pass.

From our window we watch the sun rise over the Organ Mountains:

The sun quickly warms the dry desert air. Each brilliantly sunny day the temperature rose around 45 degrees, from below freezing to over 70. The park has lots of nice trails through the thorny landscape, which we walked each day:

Many species of birds about here, like the cardinal-like Pyrrhuloxia, the curve-billed Thrasher, and the silly Gambel's Quail with their song like a tipsy English lady giggling over her afternoon tea.

I rode my bike around here, too, but picked up tire-fulls of these nasty thorned seeds called goat-heads. I had to refill my tires with sealant to keep air in them after pulling all of these horrible spines out of the rubber.

We drove back east through the Organ Mountains and out into the massive White Sands Missile Range, which surrounds White Sands National Monument. It was worth the drive, however. You can't really see much of the white sand from the road; not even entering the park can you see it. But around a few bends, behind the scrub covered dunes, you enter another world. It's like being on a different planet, really. The temperature drops 10 degrees, and everything but the sky is pure white. It looks so much like snow that you can't help but be surprised to set foot on it and find it hard and dry. We drove the park road through the dunes to its end, then walked out to where we couldn't see any other footprints.

White on white:

Lastly, we had dinner in Las Cruces on Valentine's Day at a classy little sushi place. Getting there was aggravating. Somehow at least 50% of the traffic lights in the city weren't functioning, resulting in near-gridlock: an every-man-for-himself approach to multi-lane four-way intersection crossing. Surviving that, and finally seated with drink in hand, we relaxed and had a very enjoyable meal:

Now we're off to Tucson, where Nancy will fly home for a week, and I'll tend the camper and dogs, suffering in the sun and warm air of Arizona ;)


  1. Really nice pictures and stories. We have been at McKinney Falls SP as well. Isn't it amazing how close to the city (Austin)and quiet that state park is? It was very nice meeting you!

    Debbie & Vincent (from Leasburg Dam SP)

  2. Debbie & Vincent: it was nice to meet you too. We really liked Leasburg Dam, but had to leave to keep the adventure moving! McKinney is great and amazingly quiet for being 20 minutes from downtown. Happy trails!