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Dec 26, 2011 – a way to White Sands

We returned back to Las Cruses and had a lunch there. Because we wanted to try something local we choose Mesilla Valley Kitchen, actually it was our Garmin who (or that?) choose it for us. It appears to be a small place where you have to order at the counter and then choose the table and wait to be served. But it was good. We ordered hot tea, salads and burritos and quesadillas; and they were really good. The only problem we encountered was our heavy accent which local people had difficulty to understand, so next time we decided to use Artem as our ambassador.

Our next task was to find gas for our gas stove and 95% alcohol for our alcohol stove. We thought we need the alcohol stove in addition to the gas one, because we plan to spend this night outdoors on dunes in the White Sands Park.

Why two stoves and two kind of fuel?

A Super Cat Stove

A Super Cat Stove

Because the gas stove works well only at temperatures above 0C. The forecast said that we should expect something about -3 C at White Sands that night. Anticipating this, Andrey spent the last day before the trip making a super cat stove that used alcohol and can operate below zero C. Our cat kindly volunteered to eat an extra can of wet food to make the can available for us. No surprise we were eager to test it.

The problem was where to get fuel. My non-American friends and colleagues often complain that America becomes more and more unified and that no matter where one travels in USA there is always a nearby plaza with Giant, Wall-Mart, and McDonald’s and that the local flavor is getting more and more difficult to find. That is generally true, and that is sad. However, there is still some variety available. On Big Island and near Death Valley, we always managed to get propane from Wall-Mart. But it was a mistake to look for it there in Las Cruses. We finally get it from the Ride-on Sport store (after doing the Internet research). And 95% alcohol was found in Home Depot.

At 1 PM we headed to White Sands.

White Sands National Monument is a vast desert with dunes made of magnificent ivory-colored gypsum sand. Because gypsum is water-soluble, it’s rarely found in sand form, since a couple of rains is enough to wash it out to the ocean. But there is not much rain in that part of NM and with no natural water outlet (as Rio Grande is too far), the small amount of annual rainwater simply sinks into the ground, leaving behind the gypsum. Also as gypsum sand is water-soluble and finer than sand in other dunes (e.g. Eureka dunes) that makes White Sand dunes surface more solid, because water cements the sand grains together, creating a crust below the dunes’ surface. It was nice to find that we were able to walk easily there.

White Sands

White Sands National Monument. Picture courtesy of Artem Vovk

From the road, the white dunes covered with white snow rose up to 20-30 feet and looked as images from the other world.

NASA Road

NASA road. White Sands also serves as primary NASA rocket engine test facility. Picture courtesy of Artem Vovk

The park is located in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range, which is the largest military establishment in US. As we drove along the highway, frequent signs warned us of the danger of trespassing. It is also serves as primary NASA rocket engine test facility and as a resource for testing potentially hazardous materials, space flight components, and rocket propulsion systems. It is also the primary training area for space shuttle pilots. Actually the road 70/82 is closed those days when they do testing there. So it makes sense to check it before you plan your trip.

Oil well pumps look like strange desert animals

The space and rocket themes as well as free range cows and oil pumps followed us on our way.

Not surprisingly, there is a border control post short before the park entrance. They ask peoples’ IDs and the purpose of visit. They are very nice and polite.

More pictures are available on the Artem’s web site. He was our primary photographer.