We had to drive over the Cloudcroft summit, elevation 8,650 ft. Due to the high elevation and the steep grade on the way down from the peak, we disconnected the car and I drove the car down the mountain. I was able to snap a quick picture of Bill driving the RV through a tunnel on the way down.
We arrived in Alamogordo and set up at the local friendly Elks Lodge where they have electric, water and sewer RV sites. Alamogordo is home to the Holloman Air Force Base and much of the city’s industry is related to the Air Base and space travel.
After getting settled in we drove to the nearby New Mexico Museum of Space History. It is appropriate that the museum is here since this area of New Mexico is known as the cradle of America’s space program. It was not the most extensive space museum we have ever been to, and some of the museum was under renovation and in disarray, but we enjoyed our visit.
On the grounds was the burial site of HAM, the first “Astrochimp”. (Previously dogs and other animals had been launched by Soviets and NASA as merely passengers.) HAM was launched in a Mercury capsule on January 31, 1961. Three months later the first manned flight was launched into space with Alan Shepard becoming the first American in space.
Bill was especially interested in the Daisy Track. It was used from 1955 to 1985 and was converted from rocket to air powered sled track. It was used to study the effects of acceleration, deceleration and impact on the human body of different equipment systems. It was used for biological and mechanical research and testing for NASA’s Mercury space flights and the Apollo moon landings. It was used to test the idea of seat belts for automobile use.
Thursday evening was Wing Night at the Elks and we went over and had some wings in hot sauce, very hot sauce!
Friday we drove to White Sands National Monument. Here, rare gypsum sands form beautiful white dunes that rise up to sixty feet above the Tularosa Basin floor at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert. How were they formed? Basically when the Permian Sea retreated millions of years ago, it left behind deep layers of gypsum fields. Mountains rose and carried the gypsum higher. The dunes were created when rain and melting snow dissolved gypsum from the surrounding mountains and carried it into Lake Lucero. Desert heat evaporated the water, causing gypsum crystals to form. Dry southwest winds exposed the crystals, eroding them into sand size particles that were blown to form the dunes.
Today, wind, snow and rain continue the process. Inches below the surface is water which prevents the dunes from blowing away. At 275 square miles, White Sands is the world’s largest gypsum dune field. It is truly like no other place on earth and one of the world’s great natural wonders. People are allowed to go dune sledding here. President Herbert Hoover declared it a national monument in 1933.
We saw an interesting movie in the Visitors Center on how the dunes were formed and are ever changing. Of particular interest was a description of how the animals such as lizards and rodents have adapted to the harsh, white environment by evolving to a white color to camouflage themselves from their enemies.
This can be a surprisingly dangerous environment where it is easy to get lost and lose your bearings in all the whiteness. A couple years ago a family visiting from France became disoriented on one of the trails on a hot day. They had failed to bring enough water with them on the hike. The parents died and their son survived because the parents gave their water to their son.
We walked on a couple of the easier trails. In the parking lot of one of the trails we noticed a vehicle with Virginia license plates so of course we had to stop and talk with them. They were from Henrico County and had been traveling full time in their RV for four months. We stood in the parking lot and chatted with them for about an hour, sharing our experience over the last four years. Always excited to meet someone from my birth state. We exchanged contact information so hopefully we will meet up with this nice couple sometime down the road.
Nearby is White Sands Missile Range where the Trinity Site is located. It was here on July 16,1945 the first atomic bomb was detonated. From 1945 to 1949 the German V2 rockets and their engineers assembled and tested their rockets here. In the 1960’s, testing for the lunar module engines that propelled Apollo astronauts off the moon’s surface was done here. Today the facilities are used for radar, laser and flight research.
On Saturday Bill helped some men from the Elks replace some electrical power cables. Some of the electrical outlets at various campsites were not working. When the men came on Saturday morning to fix them, Bill went out to ask if they needed help. They accepted his offer so he spent several hours helping them pull power cables underground. Their next step will be to connect up the RV sites to the new cables.
Next up: Willcox, Arizona