After a little scare with a tire on the Mazda we’re towing, we made it to Alamogordo!
(On our way out of Albuquerque, along I-25, our tire pressure monitor told us one of the tires on the tow car was low. We stopped along the side of the interstate, and Chad got out to check and fill the tire. We were all praying we’d be able to get to Alamogordo without any trouble. When it looked like the pressure was holding, we started back down the road, picking up some Fix-a-Flat on the way. The pressure held well the rest of the way there! Thank you, Lord!! We drove around there for a day, when the pressure started going down again. Chad took it to the tire shop, where they found a screw in the sidewall! Aaaack. We were so thankful the pressure held, even with the screw in there. Anyway, 4 new tires and a roadside hazard guarantee later, we were good as new!)
We stayed at the White Sands Community RV Park, which we didn’t get to see much of, because it was COLD while we were there. But it seemed like a very neat, clean, and quiet park, with comfortable sites and in a good location for visiting Alamogordo. The day after we arrived, we headed straightaway for White Sands National Monument, about 15 minutes to the west. The kids picked up their junior ranger programs, we “rented” plastic sleds (actually, it’s one for $25, with a $10 buy-back offer) and headed for the dunes.
This isn’t snow; it’s sand. Or more precisely, gypsum. Same thing sheetrock is made from—275 square miles of it! An ephemeral lake to the west of the dunes leaves the gypsum behind as it evaporates. The wind coming down off the mountains further west carries the fine sand to the dune field, where it is deposited. Parts of the dunes are moving to the east at about 30 feet per year, so the park may be in a completely different place next time we’re back! Great Sand Dunes National Monument is near home in Colorado, and I’ve been there a few times, but this is different, because you drive right out among the dunes. There, you park, walk a ways (or take an extremely bumpy primitive road to a “secret” up-close-to-the-dunes spot…that’s another story…) and then get to the dunes, which rise up much higher than these, but aren’t nearly as broad (or as white).
The park was virtually empty, and we certainly had our choice of dunes. From the top, all we could see for miles was white sand. With the overcast skies and no other people around, it was other-worldly.
Sumac bushes form these mounds with their roots. The gypsum hardens when it comes in contact with the moisture around the plants’ roots, and forms a rock-like structure that stays put as the drier sand around it is blown on by. These end up being great shelters for little animals who live in the desert.
Do you know how hard it normally is to run on sand? These dunes make it easy! (Well, so does being an 8-year-old boy…) Some of the gypsum dissolves when it rains, and then hardens into a Plaster-of-paris-like surface, so your feet only sink an inch or two down into the sand when you try to run or climb!
This makes for some fun sledding, too!
Yes, the Falling-Off-the-Edge-of-the-Earth pose never gets tiring!
After some sledding, we suddenly realized we could still make it to the pistachio farm for the last tour of the week if we hurried, so we were off! The Heart of the Desert Pistachio Farm was about 10 minutes north of town, and we got there just in time for an excellent private tour. This family-owned farm has 12,000 trees on 85 acres, and all operations from tree to processing, to packaging and shipping, are handled right here.
We learned all sorts of interesting information about pistachios (which we love and which happen to be very good for you!). After the pistachios lose their outer covering, the epicarp, they open while still on the tree. If they don’t open on the trees, they won’t open.
Pistachios aren’t allowed to be sold raw, because of the risk of salmonella; they must first be roasted. The nuts are picked by shaker-machines that travel up and down the rows of trees. The male and female trees look different: (can you tell which is which? We included a couple clues for you….)
After the trees, we got to see where the nuts are processed. The nuts pass through a series of machines that get out debris, sort them, and prepare them for roasting. These ladies and two others scan every nut the leaves the farm. This is where the bad nuts are removed (Willy Wonka, anyone?)
After the processing, the nuts are roasted. One very helpful tip we learned is that when a pistachio is only partially opened, and you can’t quite pop it all the way open, inserting the shell of another pistachio into the gap and twisting will pop that stinker right open! Try it—it works!
Other than the informative tour, the most enjoyable part of the visit was the sampling counter! We tried several different flavors of roasted pistachios, pistachio bark, and even pistachio wine. All of the staff were super-friendly, knowledgeable, and proud of their products. Our favorite nuts were the green chile garlic and spicy red chile. Yum!
On Monday, this is what we woke up to!
From what we had experienced on Friday at White Sands, we thought it would be even more fun with snow, so we bundled up as best we could with what we had, and headed back with our sleds.
The bright sunshine and blue skies made for an entirely different experience than a couple days earlier when it was overcast. We still had almost the whole park to ourselves, it seemed, until a ranger came by after a couple hours and said they were closing the park early due to missile testing nearby at the White Sands Missile Range. It was okay—by then we were just about worn out.
Plastic saucer sleds go really fast on gypsum sand covered with a couple inches of snow!! We had the best time, and I think it kind of made up for the kids missing the snow in Monument this year. Maaaaybe.
Even with all that sledding, the kids managed to finish their junior ranger programs just in time; in fact, we closed down the visitor center.
The next day, it was on to Arizona! Tucson, here we come!