Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whiter than white

I've been to some cool places. Big Sur. The Grand Canyon. The old Ranalli's on Lincoln.

But it's been a long time since I've been anywhere as cool as White Sands National Monument. It's 275 square miles of pure white gypsum sand -- giant dunes rolling clear out to the San Andres mountains.

It's set within the White Sands Missile Range and sometimes closes for short periods if the military's shooting rockets overhead. It's also south of the Trinity site, where they detonated the first Atomic bomb.

When you're driving through it you feel like you're up in the north woods in January. Nothin' but white, with piles of it banked on either side of the road.

What's rare about the sand is it's gypsum. From what I understand, rain dissolves minerals off the mountain rocks. The rain and snowmelt bring it down to the valley to an ancient lake that was many times larger than the one there now. The lake evaporates, leaving the gypsum behind in dry beds. The prevailing winds send the gypsum flying to the northwest.

It's so clean and pure.

And unlike "beach" sand, it's cool on your feet, even on a 90-degree day. (And no cigarette butts, either.)

The dunes are in constant motion, rising up and flattening out and marching ever forward. And when you get away from the people, it is so, so quiet. It's that weird deafening kind of quiet that sort of presses in heavy on your eardrums.

And you can stay until past sunset, which I did.

I was hoping also to see some amazing stars, but we've got a half-moon up now and that seemed to overwhelm them. But it did help me get back to my car.

Oh yeah, and that dish? There's also sledding!

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