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Day 162 - Backtracking to Alamogordo (Photo's Added)

We went backwards a little bit today since I wanted to also visit White Sands and Alamogordo. First we checked out some birds, then a Farm Museum however.

sunny 70 °F

Things don't always work out as planned, today was a great example of that. Before we got to New Mexico, Mom and I had seen an article about Rockhound State Park in Deming, and both of us really wanted to check it out. Mom also wanted to go to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, which was in the NE end of the state, so we decided to go to Deming first, then head north from there to Albuquerque and then west from there. There is a museum and display at White Sands Missile Range that I really wanted to visit, as well as a Space & Rocket museum in Alamogordo.

However, first things first. When we got up this morning at Rockhounds SP, there were so many birds I just had to stop and take some pictures. (I've seen it spelled both Rockhounds and Rock Hounds, but the Park brochure uses the former). Anyway, we were fortunate to see both kinds of quail that frequent the park, Scaled Quail (left) and Gambel's Quail (right - but click to enlarge).


We also saw several different kinds of small birds, most of which I'm still having trouble identifying in spite of the very helpful bird books we've picked up along the way. The first one is a Cactus Wren, the second some sort of Finch (possibly a House Finch), after that I'm lost. There were more, but these give you some idea of the variety - all pictures taken within a few minutes of each other.


In spite of the birds, we did finally leave Rockhounds SP and headed back east. As we drove through Las Cruces, Mom saw signs for the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum and wanted to check it out. This is roughly the view of the entrance, including a fairly large equipment display area.


Just outside the entrance is a very nice Cactus Garden. Unfortunately, the various cacti plants are not labeled so you have to just enjoy them (unless your a cactus expert of course).


The Museum has a fairly large outdoor area, including various types of animals and farm systems. We caught a ride on a cart while a volunteer drove us around and described the animals and farm & ranch systems. This is a Corriente Bull, from the type of cattle brought over by the Spanish in the 1400's. These are smaller than many modern cattle breeds, but also quite hardy.


A few cages down from the Corriente cattle were some Texas Longhorns. Many people believe that the Longhorns were descended from the Corriente, which seems quite likely. Texas Longhorns almost became extinct in the 1930's, which might explain why we didn't see any of them on the ranges as we drove through Texas. They are making a comeback now, but mostly on ranches or State Parks that specialize in them. Jim, our cart driver, explained that the horns continue to grow throughout the life of the Longhorn, so the longer the horns, the older the animal is. Mom was tickled to see a newborne with it's mother.


There were also a couple of display's of old types of transportation, both outside and inside.


The inside portion of the Museum had displays on Saddle Making and a rather odd assortment of displays (mostly signs) on people during the farming and ranching history of New Mexico. We walked through these sections rather quickly, then visited the gift shop. The most impressive items in the gift shop were Pistacho's - in several different flavors! Of course, I sampled most of the varieties (Mom doesn't do nuts) and picked up a few for later.

After visiting the Farm and Ranch Museum, we got back on the highway to head to our original destination, White Sands Missile Range. (OK - my destination, I don't think Mom was as enthusiastic about this as I was.) I wasn't too sure where I was going however, on the map was a White Sands National Monument, which I assumed to have something to do with the Missile Range - incorrectly it turns out. There is a Museum open to the public at White Sands Missile Testing Range, but it is inside the secure facility. It is also about 30 miles south of White Sands National Monument (more about that in a minute). Since the public museum is inside the gate, you must have all appropriate documentation to pass through the gate. As I pulled mine out, I found out my vehicle "Proof of Insurance" had expired so we couldn't get past the guards. Ugh. Well, better to find out now and get it fixed before I need to show it for something more serious. So after some fruitless hand wringing and frantic phone calls, we turned around and drove on north - not sure what we'd find (and a little bit frustrated at being turned away, for myself at least).

It turns out White Sands National Monument has nothing to do with the Missile Range other than similar names. The Tularosa Basin, where Alamogordo, White Sands NM and the Missile Range are located, sits between two mountain ranges. What little rain there is here has no outlet to the sea, so just drains into the basin and forms lakes there. The San Andres and Sacramento mountains contain Gypsum deposits that are easily dissolved by water, which washes down into the trapped basin lakes (called Playa's). As the hot desert sun evaporates the water, gypsum crystals form which are then eventually broken down into sand sized particles and blown into dunes by the wind. So the sand dunes of White Sands NM are gypsum dunes. Here is a photo of a small Playa that was along the park road as well as a closeup of the dried bed of the lake.


These are the largest gypsum sand dunes in the world and are quite rare. Since gypsum is water soluable, most gypsum erosion would just wash into the sea. The desert basin allows these deposits to be captured and the lack of rain allows it to continue to exist in crystal (sand) form.

The sand dunes cover 275 square miles of desert and are always on the move. Here you can see the edge of the dunes as it encroaches on the desert grasslands.


We were surprised to learn that some types of plants have adapted to the moving sand dunes. For example, Yucca plants just keep growing taller and taller, so what you see as the spiked leaves are really just the top of a very tall Yucca tree - the roots are still in the ground under the sand. (The Yucca is the one that looks like rabbit ears here).


Another form of adaptation is the Rosemarymint plant. This plant has so many roots and spines that it can grab onto the sand and hold it in place, even if the dune moves away from the plant - leaving a sand pedestal.


While this is a National Monument (e.g. Park), you are allowed to hike and climb on the dunes along the road. Of course, they ask people to avoid damaging fragile area's such as the spaces between dunes where many of the plants grow. Mom and I decided to check out this unique type of sand (most sand is made of quartz).


The road into the dunes is about eight miles long and is only paved half way, after that it is just compressed gypsum sand. This is very hard however and provides a fine road surface (except in a few spots where it had a bit of washboard). The deeper we got into the heart of the sand dunes however, the less vegetation we saw. In the middle, the dunes are moving too fast for even the most adaptable plants. There is some grass in between dunes, but mostly we just saw big, soft white dunes (and road). This shot shows how high the wind can drive the dunes - notice the RV parked below?


I had a lot of fun climbing up the dune to get these shots - I went barefooted and found it to be a very soft sand. In places it was hard enough to walk on top of it, in others I sank down, sometimes quite a bit. Here's a final shot of the 'heart of the dunes' as the park calls this area.


Alamogordo is just a few miles past the park entrance. We found a nice RV park there and plan to visit the Space & Rocket Museum in the morning, then head up to Albuquerque. I made reservations at one of my membership campgrounds for two nights up there to try yet again to finish my taxes, so we should also have time to get a few other things caught up, including the blog...


Miles Driven - 161 (Backwards!), Cumulative - 15,810
Camped at Roadrunner RV Campground, Alamogordo, NM

Posted by jl98584 20:05 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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It looks like you are learning alot about the southwest...there are some very wait out places. Definitely not as many trees. We really had a great visit.

by rllomas

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