Friday, September 28, 2012


SATURDAY, September 29
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International Space Hall of Fame & Museum
     We have a full day ahead of us, the rain stopped falling around midnight, the skies have cleared and it is a gloriously beautiful morning!  By the time I update everything on-line over at the clubhouse, draw a picture that I don’t finish coloring, and eat breakfast, it is 9:20 when we leave to spend much of the day at the International Space Hall of Fame and Museum.  We visited here 18 years ago when the boys were quite young, but Jed was already interested in Space!  The museum is located high on the hill overlooking the city – the mirrored outside walls reflect the clouds and skies beautifully! 
     Rick and I purchased combo tickets to include an IMAX movie, plus additional tickets for the 1pm planetarium show “9 Planets & Counting”.  The IMAX show is on Hubble and at 2pm.  So….we have 2 ½ hours to explore the museum, before catching a bite to eat at the truck before the planetarium show. 
NASA won't be hiring us
to land the Shuttle! 
In the Gemini capsule! 
     The museum is designed to be viewed from top to bottom.  Elevators carry you to the top floor, and you work your way down on ramps through the various exhibits: Why Tularosa Basin and New Mexico? Icons of Exploration (celebrated artifacts such as moon rocks and replicas of spacecraft).  Living and Working in Space. (Rick and I piloted a shuttle landing...poorly).   Rockets (including the German influences) Satellites.  New Mexico Space Science and the X Prize & Commercial Space.  Yesterday’s Tomorrows (the future as perceived by our culture 50 years ago); and Meteorites.  Outside the museum exhibits included the Daisy Track (used to study the body’s tolerance to G-Forces), the Memorial Garden for astronauts killed in Apollo and shuttle missions, as well as the burial site of Ham the AstroChimp. We SLOWLY worked our way down, reading much!  In between the levels are framed pictures of the over 150 men and women in the Space Hall of Fame, ranging from old-timers such as Copernicus and Galileo to some of the most recent Shuttle commanders. 
The Space Relics Park from the top floor of museum. 
     At 12:30 and somewhere in the middle of level 2, we realized we needed to break, grab some lunch, and walk down the hill to the Planetarium and IMAX theater.   The parking lot was relatively empty – in fact, we probably only encountered three or four other groups inside the museum.  I think we are going to like very much the benefits of traveling in the off season!! 
Web Photo of Orion Nebula from Hubble
     The Nine Planets and Counting Planetarium show was well done and interesting.  We were sitting off to the side which made it difficult to see some of the pictures off to the one side.  For the IMAX show, we moved closer to the middle and that was much better.  The IMAX show on the Hubble Space Telescope was fantastic.  Huge IMAX screen size and images taken by Hubble that carried us into the middle of the Orion Nebula and to the outer edges of the universe.  Also footage of the last Shuttle mission dedicated to repair and service Hubble before the end of the shuttle program.  We really enjoyed both movies! 
     Back up to the museum to finish up, a look through the gift shop, and then out to the outside exhibits.  By 4pm we were ready to leave!  Finally!  
     Quick dinner of burritos from egg, canned chicken, and leftovers beans & salsa in the fridge.  Quick and easy! 
     We left around 5:40p to head back down to White Sands for our third and final visit!  The skies are clear except for scattered clouds here and there and a band of clouds over the Sacramento Mts.  Our hopes are for a more colorful sunset and a moon rise to experience the moon on the dunes.  We drove to the Nature Trail area and walked the last part of the trail backwards to a high point and large tracks of dunes without plants.  By going backwards, we also avoided the Park Service led Hike taking place in the same area. 
Just prior to sunset, there was a rainbow dropping down
to the ground in the south. 
Moon in the yucca
     We scored a winning doubleheader!  I ran all over our area to find yucca plants, cottonwoods, old stumps, etc. to use for foreground in sunset pictures, and then moon rise pictures.  My big regret?  I left the tripod in the truck!!  And by the time the moon was fairly high, it was too dark to hold the camera as still as I would have liked.  And we had to leave by 7:45 as they close the park gates at 8p.  Still, we could see our shadows on the sand, and were able to experience a little of the moon on the white expanse of gypsum. 
     Drive back into Alamogordo to the light of the full moon.  We move again tomorrow – down to Las Cruces and our next Habitat experience!  We are ready!  

By the light of the rising moon! 

FRIDAY, September 28
On top of the gypsum  at White Sands NM
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     Today we played in the ‘snow’ and we did it in bare feet!!  That’s what many of my pictures look like during our daytime visit to White Sands.  The skies were ugly today. (Well, ugly in the sense that we didn’t have bright blue clear skies.)  Even though the forecast was only 20% chance of rain, the sky was overcast this morning and just got blacker and blacker as the day progressed.  As I write about 4:30p, it has been raining steadily for the past hour and half: rain the Tularosa Basin can really use at the end of a long and dry monsoon season.  But….we got home to our trailer just as the first sprinkles began to fall! 
Piles of sand from the sand plow.
     The dunes shift, especially in the spring when the winds are the greatest, up to 30’ a year – always moving in the prevailing southwest to northeast direction.  Because of this, the main dune road is paved only for the first 3 miles; after that you are driving on packed gypsum sand!  And it is a hard surface, but one easily broken down by rain.  They plow the road frequently with a snow plow to keep the sand in check.  You could tell they had done sections just this morning, including large parking lots which had the telltale mounds of ‘snow sand’ in the corners. 
Visitor Center at White Sands is built in southwest
adobe style. 
     Our first stop was the Visitor Center and a stamp in my National Parks Passbook.  We explored the various exhibits, watched an excellent 17 minute movie (with awesome time-lapse photography) on the formation of the dunes, and then made a few purchases in the gift store next door.  The Visitor Center is all adobe, southwest architecture – it appears to be part of the landscape! 
THIS is a picnic area! 
Trail Marker
     A slower drive in this morning (unlike last night’s race to get to the Sunset Stroll on time!).  We stopped at a few more of the interpretive signs, visited the picnic area.  This looked to me somewhat like an image out of a sci-fi film: little curved shelters scattered amidst a barren white plain.  Picnic on Tatooine in Star Wars, perhaps?  We continued on past the strenuous five mile hike out to the Alkali Flats (up dune, down dune, up dune, down dune – more work than we wanted today, especially with ugly skies!)  We stopped at the Backcountry Camper Parking because this is where Jed camped a couple years ago when he visited the area.  If I remember correctly, Jed was in site 5-6-or-7, which are on the farthest point of the circle.  Rick and I trekked only so far as Campsite 1 and that ended up being over a mile roundtrip.  Out on this section of the dunes, you truly feel encased in a sea of white waves – grasses and plants in the inter-dune area, but the dunes themselves are plant-free for the most part.  I finally put my camera on the ‘snow’ setting, hoping to adjust for the brilliant lighting.  The sky with its dark clouds added a different dimension from blue skies.  Since it is impossible to make a ‘trail’ over the dunes, you simply follow marker poles from one to another.  Each pole has an arrow pointing the direction to the next one, you get it in your sights, and off you trek!  The initial trailhead also had GPS coordinates for each campsite – modern orienteering at its best!  We grabbed a little bite to eat out near campsite #1, and the token picture.
A sea of white and angry skies! 
Nature Trail was covered with
Yellow Primrose in bloom. 
Only the tops of the cottonwoods appear
above the dunes.  
      Back in the road toward the entrance to stop at the Nature Trail Basin Hike – a one mile trip led by Katy the Kit Fox (the signs are all as if Katy is telling the story!)  The kit fox, at just under 5 pounds, is the largest full time mammal in the park.  Much of the hike was explaining how the animals adapt to a waterless environment and to the white habitat.  Biologists love it because they have been able to track animal adaptation in rapid time.  Mice, lizards, snakes, etc. have all adapted with whiter skins and furs in this area. 
     Back to the trailer for a little relaxation time listening to the rain fall!  Around 4:30 we take off for an early dinner at Applebee’s!  We want to try out the 2-for-$20 special Rick has heard advertised on TV!  Ended up a good meal, although my Sangria was not cheap!  Rick got a beer on the happy hour special.  We also got an appetizer in with the deal. 
     Still raining when we left the restaurant at 6p, and we needed to walk off our dinner.  We drove north on White Sands Blvd. in search of a possible mall, but never found one.  So…back to the Wal-Mart to wander for abit.  Naturally we ended up purchasing a few things! 
     Evening spent talking on the phone with Baker City and relaxing!  I did wander over to the clubhouse a few times to connect to the internet again.  The rain finally slowed down around midnight.  Space Museum in the morning and perhaps clear skies!  

THURSDAY, September 27
Albuquerque (Edgewood) to Alamogordo, New Mexico
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     Back to a travel day today!  We relax a little inside Randy’s and then go into action to finish packing up the trailer for travel again!  We have accumulated a few new things while in Albuquerque and have to find room for everything!  (Some of it is stuff Mom R is sending home with us!) 
     On the road by 9:20 with a stop at the Subway on Route 66 to pick up our free 6” sub sandwiches – our prize from giving blood a couple weeks ago!  They were only good at the Edgewood Subway, so it was time to use them.  Then on to I-40 for a few short miles to Moriarty, and down Hwy 41 toward Estancia, where Patty teaches school.  This is flat land….marked with scattered piñon pines or junipers, and a short round cedar tree.  Estancia is prime pinto bean country, but we also pass several corn fields.  I don’t think I would recognize a pinto bean farm if I saw one! 
Park in Corrizozo for lunch stop
     Onto Hwy 60 for two miles, and then south again on State Route 42 toward Corona – which is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere!  We pass through Cedarvale, which is our hint that all those trees just might be a variety of cedar!  None of them are over 15’ tall – and very round.  We are stopped for road construction at one point – major work being down on Hwy 54, the major north south highway from Corona to Carrizozo and south to Alamogordo.
      Into Carrizozo at 12:30.  This is the county seat for Lincoln County, home of Capitan Mts. and Smokey the Bear fame.  Also a major link for Ruidoso, horse racing and casino locale up in the mountains.  We found a gas station market to pick up some drinks, and then a small park honoring the first governor of New Mexico, who hailed from Carrizozo.  There we ate our sandwiches! 
White Sands RV Park site
      Another hour into Alamogordo, driving along the west side of the Sacramento Mountains, which form the eastern border of the Tularosa Basin – a huge “bathtub” which also contains all of the White Sands deposits.  We found White Sands RV Community Park – a large mobile home park that also has about 85 temporary RV sites.  Pretty nice setup – shaded tables, concrete pads, trees, and we are right next to the clubhouse with swimming pool, etc.  Only downside?  I can’t get internet in the trailer – I have to go to the clubhouse and it closes at 5pm.  However, I did find that I can sit outside and get the free internet there!  So, I am writing tonight in the trailer and will post everything in the morning! 
Sun should set in the notch, but too many clouds! 
     Around 5:15 we take off to drive down to White Sands National Monument – and a chance to maybe catch the full moon.  Unfortunately, the skies are dark and black with clouds, but there is also a Sunset Stroll to take in, which should provide a little information for us about the park!  By the time we stopped to get gas, we were a little late arriving at the stroll, but the ranger was just leaving the parking area and we were able to quickly slide right on it with 3 other couples. 
Yucca releasing its seeds
      White Sands National Monument is a small slice of the dunes out of the White Sands Missile Range.  When the military decides it no longer needs the range, ALL the dunes will revert to the national monument.  It is protected, all 275 square miles of dunes.  The next largest gypsum dunes in the world are in northern Mexico – at 8 square miles!  That puts the extent of White Sands into perspective! 
Darkling beetles were everywhere!
     We “strolled” through the dunes, as our ranger pointed out various plants, animals, and adaptations that both have made to life in a desert climate – as well as a shifting and constantly moving environment!  We saw little insects, lizards, coyote skat, flowers, skunk-bush sumas, and cottonwood trees.  The latter two plants create large pillars of gypsum held within root systems.  Gypsum sand does not get hot to the touch like beach sand, so it feels “cool”, even in the heart of the summer, to walk on it barefoot. 
Sunset glow on the San Andres Mts. 
     We didn’t get much of a sunset, and didn’t see the moon until we were leaving.  A few dark orange spots among the mountains as we drove back out the road.  Our ranger told us where to see the moon on the sands Friday or Saturday nights, even though we haven’t been able to sign up for the hike or bike ride. 
     Back into town, quick trip to Wal-Mart for some ice cream sandwiches, and then evening of computer (me) and football watching (Rick). Tomorrow back to White Sands in the day time!  

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