Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Across the U.S.: Day 14

by Kathy 28. June 2009 20:45

<< Day 13: Santa Fe to Alamagordo, New Mexico | Day 15: Alamagordo to Roswell >>

White Sands National Monument


Happy 10th Birthday to Genevieve today! We were celebrating this special day by visiting the nearby White Sands National Monument and going sledding down the big sand dunes.

Genevieve opened her presents and cards this morning, as soon as we would let her. She was very happy with her cards and gifts.

When she was opening some of the cards, Sebastian commented, “It doesn’t matter what the card looks like; what is important is the love that’s inside.” So insightful, that little guy of ours.

Genevieve and Sebastian then ran outside to meet their two new friends, Devan (age 9) and Donovan (age 5), at the playground.

Devan and Donovan were traveling to Texas this afternoon. They had gone sledding on the dunes of White Sands National Monument yesterday. When the children said their final goodbyes, Devan presented Genevieve and Sebastian with some sled wax that would help their sleds zoom faster down the hill.

The Monument does not allow overnight camping, which is why we were staying in Alamogordo, the nearest town.

Our RV site:

Genevieve got her wish for a brilliant clear blue sky!

We drove 17 miles to the White Sands National Monument.

We could see the gleaming white dunes in the distance. The white sand looked out of place among the other desert colors.

We obtained two Jr. Ranger booklets at the visitor’s center.

We also watched a short movie about the formation of the sand dunes. Sebastian thought that the movie was a bit dull, and he ultimately decided not to pursue a Jr. Ranger badge today. Genevieve, on the other hand, had enough enthusiasm and motivation for both of them—she attacked her Jr. Ranger assignments with gusto!

We purchased sleds (round plastic discs) at the Monument gift shop. New sleds were $15; however, you could purchase a used sled for $10. You could also sell the sleds back to the shop at the end of the day--$5 for turning in a new sled, and $3 for a used sled. We opted for the used sleds.

We then took the RV down the “Dunes Drive,” an 8-mile road leading to the heart of the sand dunes, with roadside displays discussing geology, animal life, and plants.

We stopped at each roadside exhibit and learned that the White Sands National Monument sits at the northern part of the large Chihuahuan Desert, which extends through northern Mexico, southwestern Texas, southern New Mexico and a tiny bit of Arizona. This desert has scorching days, freezing nights, strong winds, and poorly-developed soil. The sand dunes at the Monument are formed from gypsum, a mineral found in the nearby mountains. (Plaster of paris is pure gypsum.) Rain and snow dissolve the mineral and carry it to the desert floor; when the water evaporates, the gypsum is left behind, forming crystals that eventually break into smaller and smaller pieces, until they are fine grains that are then pushed into large dunes by the strong winds.

The dunes at the beginning of the scenic drive were fairly small.

We decided to hike the Dune Life Nature Trail, a one-mile loop with numerous exhibits along the way discussing features of the dunes.

Genevieve and I at the trailhead:


Genevieve was looking for an insect to satisfy her Jr. Ranger “search” requirement. We were fortunate enough to spy a camel cricket:

We found out later from one of the rangers that sighting a camel cricket was very rare. He had never seen one at the park, so we showed him the above photo on our digital camera.

The temperature was very hot today, and the air was unusually humid. The glare of the white sand was blinding. Ben put his sunglasses on Sebastian. The trail wandered through the thick fine sand, with some uphill climbs. After about ¼ of a mile, Sebastian was lagging and starting to overheat. Ben took Sebastian back to the RV, while Genevieve and I continued onward.

Genevieve and I had fun hiking to each display along the route.  We learned so many things! Here is a sampling of our new knowledge: Various animals (such as the kangaroo mouse) have adapted to their environments by camouflaging themselves to match the white sand; the stinkbug, however, has remained dark black because it fends off predators by releasing a horrible stench. Some desert animals, like the kit fox, have very large ears to give off heat and keep their bodies cool. Cottonwood trees can become buried by dunes but still survive so long as they can keep some of their leaves outside of the sand. The dunes move a few inches at a time. Yucca plants can grow faster than a dune can cover them, so if you see a three foot yucca plant sticking out of a 20 foot dune, the yucca plant is really 23 feet tall.

The hot sun was almost unbearable. I loaned Genevieve my hat:

Here are Genevieve and I at the end of the hike—we are used to hiking, but we felt like we had walked three miles instead of one.

We then drove to the far end of Dunes Drive, where the highest dunes were located.

The road wound through the dunes:

The gypsum looked like snow and was blindingly white—almost painful to look at without protective sunglasses.

We spent some time zipping down the hills. The sand was very soft and fine, and crashing into them was like landing in a soft pillow.

The hardest part was climbing to the top of the deep soft sand dune.

Getting ready to slide . . .

Genevieve took off first:

Sebastian’s turn:

Ben took a turn . . . trying the “surfing” technique:

I took a turn too—using the old-fashioned “sitting” technique:

The “backwards” technique was very popular:

Genevieve tried the “surfing” approach:

So did Sebastian:

And then he took a rest:

All of this fun was hard work!

Ben and I took photos of each other:

The birthday girl was very happy:

We returned to the visitor’s center so that Genevieve could complete her Jr. Ranger activities. One of the requirements was to interview a ranger. She chose Mike, a new ranger who had only been on the job for 7 weeks. He had recently retired from the U.S. Air Force. Becoming a ranger was his “dream job.” He said that he loved the outdoors and had gone to college and prepared his whole life for this job. He was extremely patient and kind with Genevieve, and it was obvious that he truly loved his work.

Mike carefully reviewed Genevieve’s completed assignments, and then he swore her in as a Jr. Ranger:

Genevieve bought a Geology book last week and has been devouring it. Her head is now brimming with theories about how the earth was created and the land formations developed, and she is very enthusiastic about discussing her ideas and knowledge. The National Park Rangers that we have met during this trip, as well as previous journeys, have all fostered and encouraged Genevieve’s excitement and desire to learn more about the environment. I am so grateful for each one of them who has touched our lives and contributed to our love and understanding of the world in which we live.

On the way home from the Monument, we stopped by Baskin-Robbins in Alamogordo to pick up a birthday cake that I had ordered before leaving home.

While navigating our way back to the RV park, we passed by “Kid’s Kingdom,” an amazing playground built by the community of Alamogordo:

Of course, the children had to explore all of the creative spaces, mazes, bridges, rooms, tunnels, as well as the rocket ship and boat.

After dinner tonight, the kids still had energy to play in the RV park playground.

Genevieve even created a sculpture that she entitled “Keeping the Evil Trapped.” She explained that the dark rock represented the evil, the grass on top was for fire, the bottle cap and straw on the rock was litter to show how some people mistreated the earth, and the circle of rocks around everything was for containment.

As I kissed her goodnight, Genevieve said that she had enjoyed the nature hike with me today, as well as sledding down the sand dunes.

She added that today had been her “best birthday ever.”

<< Day 13: Santa Fe to Alamagordo, New Mexico | Day 15: Alamagordo to Roswell >>

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Comments (1) -

6/30/2009 9:17:53 PM #

Lisa @ smacksy

Life is good indeed. Happy Birthday!

Lisa @ smacksy United States | Reply

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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin