White Sands National Monument

Howdy everyone! Before I forget again – last week I saw a bobcat chasing a robin across highway 15 just before I got into Pinos Altos (town closest to Silver City). Wow, that was really amazing! No photos, but like the lynx in Alaska the bobcat image is seared into my memory.

This last week on Tuesday and Wednesday Zuni and I went to White Sands National Monument east of Las Cruces. I decided I’d better start getting out to see the countryside before the summer is gone. It takes about 4-5 hours to get to White Sands from Gila. I traveled out the east side of the Gila Wilderness on route 152 which is another twisty, turny mountainous road. Is there any other kind of road out here?? I think not!

Emory Pass is one of the locations that white settlers and military explorers first crossed into this area in the 1800’s. In the late 1800s the US military was beginning to be a presence, protect white ranchers, settlers, explorers and government interests. As a result the military began rounding up the Apaches and moving them to reservations in Florida and later Oklahoma. As the signs photographed below explain, unfortunately most of the Apache died in captivity from diseases like tuberculosis that flourished in the eastern climate.

I’ve never blogged much about the Gila Cliff Dwellings, but it was either white settlers or the military that burned the cliff dwellings around this same time thinking that they would prevent the Apache from ever returning to this area. Even though the Apache had been in the Gila (Geronimo was said to have been born at the headwaters of the Gila River) from what I’ve read they never would have used the cliff dwellings as a stronghold. Like most native American tribes, the Apache probably believed that the spirits of the previous tribe still lived there.

As I crossed the mountains I thought it was hilarious that there were so many cattle catchers (those obnoxious open grating across the roads) to keep the cattle off the forest lands, but the cattle seemed to be “open range” at just about every turn!

s-1a-Emory Pass s-1b-Smokey Bear Sifn s-1c-Open range s-1d-Cow 2

As I pulled off at a highway rest stop just before getting into Las Cruces I realized that I had a flat tire. Two young cross-country truckers offered to change my tire and I accepted! One of them hurt his hand pretty badly doing the job but I was prepared with disinfectant and band aids as well as a tire pump. We had a good laugh about my “being a boy scout” – always prepared! One of the men had been a tire mechanic in his previous life and he told me one one of the tires belts must have failed. It turned out to be true! I still had to pay Walmart $55 to replace the tire under the road hazard warranty and I had just gotten the tires early last May before going to Alaska.  All’s well though! At least the tire did not blow out in the mountains or at high speed.

Zuni and I stayed at a Sleep Inn (her first hotel experience!) She did a lot of hiding under the bed but by noon the next day had completely acclimated. I did not have time to keep her company as I had tires to repair and project stuff to shop for. I arranged for a late check-out at the hotel, ate a wonderful waffle and scrambled egg breakfast (free at the hotel!) and drove out to White Sands by 9:30 a.m. Believe it or not, it was already 85 degrees when I arrived. Since the sands are white gypsum they reflect the sun’s heat and at least the sand was cool to the touch. Whenever I am on sand I think back to the scorching hot sands of the Lake Michigan beaches of my childhood. Ouch!!!

There was a lot of hiking available, but I only got to do a few things and hike a mile along the nature trail. It would be fun to go back. I was also struck by how easily a visitor could get lost in the dunes. The park service recommends carrying a compass, lots of water and a map. The photos below show some of the most interesting things along the trail. For instance, there were quite a few darkling beetles crawling around the dunes. They don’t have to evolve lighter color for protection because they emit a noxious odor if a prey animal tries to eat them. (Yes, these are relatives of the ones in Big Bend.) Other animals like the lizards have evolved light colors – even white – as their darker hued brethren were picked off. I was impressed by the large ant colonies, too, and especially liked the photo of the ant carrying a butterfly wing home to eat.

Last in this series of photos I’ve shown some of the cottonwood trees and a dried yucca flower. Some of the plants survive by building big root systems that hold the gypsum sand in place even after the dune flows away. Other plants, like the cottonwood, seek out the subsurface water and survive as long as their leaves are above-ground. There were many cottonwood trees that were buried in sand right up to their crowns.

s-1a-White Sands Natl Mon s-1b-Info s-1c-Gypsum Hills s-1e-White Lizard s-1f-Yucca Growing s-1g-Darkling Beetle s-1h-Flower s-1i-Ants s-2a-Cottonwood s-2b-Cottonwood 2 s-2c-Yucca Flower

The sun washed out so many of my photos that I could not tell what I was shooting until I got back to civilization. The most startling was this gopher snake which was at least 25 feet up in a dead tree trunk snacking on bird eggs or baby birds. I’ve got wonderful video of mama bird trying to drive off the snake to no avail!

s-2d-Upset Bird s-2e-Gopher Snake s-3a-Treetops

I was back in Las Cruces by noon, packed up Zuni, ran the car through a car wash (what a treat to get the RV park tree sap off it!), grabbed lunch on the go and headed back to the Gila. Along the way I drove through City of Rocks state park. A visitor at the Cliff Dwellings had said it was very nice. Took the following photos and it was very interesting to see this formation out in the “middle of nowhere”! They had a lovely Havard Agave which was starting to bloom. On the way back, just before the town of Mimbres there were lots of these odd yellow flowers with red streamers growing along the roadside. I looked them up when I got home and they are called Cooley’s Bunch Flowers. Very striking!

s-4a-City of Rocks s-4b s-4c s-4d s-4e-Havard Agave in Bloom s-5a-Cooleys Bundle Flower s-5b

It is hard to believe that another 4-day work period has almost gone by. Monday I will be doing home projects and overnight Tuesday through late Wednesday I plan on going 4+ hours away to see new friends who are working at a fire watch tower at the far west side of the Gila Wilderness. Zuni will have air conditioning and TV and be on her own for that 24 hours as I will be sleeping in a tent at the fire watch tower. In closing, this morning I took a photo of my flowers at the RV: More upon my return from the fire watch tower!

s-Flowers at home

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1 Response to White Sands National Monument

  1. Royann Brockett says:

    Our former RGV District Ranger Joe Roberts (before Ben Welch) is now at White Sands. His wife posts photos on Facebook of their boys sledding on the sand dunes. Looks like fun.

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