Chapter 16-3: Southern Road Trips - White Sands

It really is a beautiful almost magical landscape. Sunhats and sunglasses are highly recommended, as the whiteness can be blinding Gypsum rocks exposed in the San Andres Mountains are eroded and carried down into Lake Lucero in the Tularosa basin after summer thunderstorms. The basin is like a bathtub with no drain. As the playa lake evaporates gypsum crystallizes and is later picked up by the wind and carried to the east where it piles up to form sand dunes.  My companions were not interested in the geological history, they just wanted to play on the pristine white sand dunes, to feel the silky-smooth sand slip through their fingers, to draw images of kachinas and spell out their names. Well who could blame them. They were so inviting to play in, if only it was not quite so hot!

After baking in the sun, we retreated to the cool of our air-conditioned cars and parted company with our guests, sending them the road to City of Rocks and Silver City, which they thoroughly enjoyed when we caught up with them a few days later.

City of Rocks, New Mexico

City of Rocks State Park is worth a delightful interlude on any southern road trip in New Mexico. Years earlier Bob and I had taken my mother to the City of Rocks, New Mexico’s answer to Stonehenge, although these rocks were eroded out of a volcanic tuff erupted from a supervolcano almost 35 million years ago. Wind, water, and ice over the intervening years have sculpted out crazy columnar shapes as high as 40 feet separated by paths and lanes resembling narrow city streets. It’s a wonderful playground for children and adults to scramble around.

As we approached the colorful soft pinkish-orange sculpted rocks small thunderstorms dotted the horizon in all directions. My mother, who had trained as a meteorologist during the Second World War and had served on various air squadrons across southern England forecasting weather for the fighter planes heading off across the channel to France and Germany, saw for the first time storm cells scattered across the distant plains dumping rain in one spot, leaving another area bone dry, and was amazed by cumulus clouds that soared to 30,000 feet and then flattened out creating spectacular anvils.

Storm cells over the plains of New Mexico

In Britain where the vistas are shorter, and trees hamper the views, rain clouds can cover the entire country. When it’s an overcast, drizzly day you don’t look around and see the end of the rain cell. There’s no sense of a beginning or an end, you’re just stuck in it for weeks on end.