Friday, April 03, 2009

White Sand & Snow

We're in Alamogordo, NM, parked at a terrific new RV Resort called Boot Hill. It's a large park that features an extensive entertainment area where they have music on weekends and where we've enjoyed pot luck dinners with other campers. The owners, James and Cindy, have really gone all out to make this a pleasant experience and we we wish them well. Coming to Alamogordo is always an interesting experience for me since in the late 60s I was stationed here as a brand-new air traffic controller, at nearby Holloman AFB. It was my first assignment and also my first experience with life outside Northeast Ohio. I'll always remember my first night out on the town and walking into "Buck's Buckaroo" wearing my Cleveland garb - leather jacket, "Dino" two-inch high collared shirt, tailor-made lacks with wing-tip shoes. It was like the old westerns when the bad guy walks into the saloon and the piano player stops playing and everyone stops talking. The next day I was shopping for Levi's and a western shirt.
One of the reasons Alamogordo is special to us is the Sacramento Mountains which tower over the city. We couldn't wait to head for Ruidoso and visit the interesting shops and restaurants. And of course, the casino. Coming around a curve in the highway, we were presented with a great view of Sierra Blanca, at just under 12,000' high the tallest peak in the area. There still was a coating of snow, and we decided to drive to Ski Apache, a ski and snowboard resort run by the Mescalaro Indian tribe, and which it turned out, was open for the last weekend of the year. The drive up to the ski area is an experience, another one of those where I had to turn up the radio volume to drown out Brenda's screams.
Another of our favorite mountain towns is Cloudcroft, a smaller, more quaint mountain town at an elevation of 9000' that has an small but intriguing area of shops and restaurants. From here, we explored the back roads and an area known as Sunspot, but more correctly the National Solar Observatory (NSO), and the Apache Point Observatory. Both are open to self-guided tours, and the tour at the NSO also highlights the long history of the facility, which dates back to the 50s. Particularly interesting was the Dunn Solar Telescope, the most prominent of the buildings and which can be seen clearly from the valley floor. Although it's tall at 136', there's another 228' below ground that completes the telescope. It's an interesting walk through the tall pines and past the various telescopes, and the view of the valley and White Sands Monument from the observation point is outstanding. From here, we continued on mountain roads to the town of Timberon, where we saw these three bull elk in the shadows along the road. Along the way, this Red-tailed hawk decided to stop in a tree next to us and pose nicely for a picture.
South of Alamogordo lies White Sands National Monument, which we've visited over the years and described in previous blogs. This was an unusual visit; the monument was packed with people surfing the dunes, picnicking, and just enjoying the sun. It was spring break time in Texas and apparently the folks in El Paso were taking advantage of the great weather and closeness of the monument. We stayed until sunset, and the subdued lighting made the place magical.
White Sands Monument and I have a long history together; it started in my early days here as a 19-year old airman. As you can imagine, there weren't a lot of things to do in the area for a single guy who didn't know how to do the two step, and so one night, with the help of a few beers, my roommate and I concocted what we knew would be the event of the century....the next day we visited the wood hobby shop, and with a few two-by-fours and some plywood constructed two sets of stilts with big, clawed footprints. A few nights later, we parked on the highway adjacent to the monument, climbed the fence, and giggling like two adolescent schoolgirls, began making tracks through the dunes. We could just see the headlines: "Spawned by the atomic blast of 1944, the Abominable Sandman Lives!"....we were so ingenious!
About that time we heard what sounded like someone clearing their throat, stopped giggling, and looked up.....at the top of a dune where the full moon silhouetted a park ranger on horseback. Looking down at us, and with a sarcastic tone to his voice, he said "you know, every year we get a couple of you idiot airman from the base out here making tracks like there's some kind of sand monster. I guess you two are this year's idiots". He could have arrested us, beaten us.....anything would have been better than destroying our belief that we were the first and only people to ever think of this......we were so visibly humiliated that he just took our names and told us not to come back....ever. I still can't believe that we weren't the first to think of such a cool thing. It still hurts.
Ah well, we still have more to see here before we move on; come back and see what else we've discovered!

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