The most silent place in the US?

With this blogpost I am opening a new category in this blog: Road trips.
When I started planing my trip to New Mexico I promised myself to see as much as possible and not say no to any exciting opportunity.

Last week my friend Silke came to Albuquerque for a short visit and we went on some road trips. The most exciting one was to the White Sands National Monument in Southern New Mexico. It’s roughly a 4 hour drive from Albuquerque. For the trip to the monument we decided to take the slightly longer and more scenic trip and for the way back the quicker trip on the interstate.
When you look at a map of New Mexico you will see that except for Albuquerque and Santa Fe, larger settlements are few and rare. So most of the scenery during the drive looked like this:

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Pretty huh?

The area, however, holds a lot of history. Not only were numerous ‘Western’ movies shot in the area, but also the first atomic bomb ever detonated on what is now called the “Trinity Site”. Many of the mountains you see around here are volcanos. So while you are headed east on the 380 shortly before Carrizozo, you pass through fascinating lava beds. You can even camp out in these. Therefore, one should visit the Valley of Fire Recreation Area. The nature is really astonishing so I would recommend that for everyone who goes not want to take the 8 hour+ drive in one day.

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These pictures don’t do the nature any justice. It is really breathtaking but we could not stop to take picture so they were just shot while driving by.

Soon after turning onto the 54 southwards. You see the beginning of the desert. This is the northern end of the Chihuahua desert and large parts of it are used by the US military as a Missile Range. Half way between the White Sands National Monument and Las Cruces is the White Sands Missile Range Museum. I’ve heard that it is really interesting but we did not visit it. Other sites along the way one can visit are the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, the Museum of Space History or the National Solar Observatory.

Finally, after a 4.5 hour drive – we had gotten stuck in some roadwork that cause a delay – we arrived at the White Sands National Monument.

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At first you stop at the visitors’ center. Here you can purchase gifts, books, and souvenirs. However, the most frequently purchased article are plastic slays. With those, people all ages love to head down the sand dunes as if it had just snowed 3 feet in the middle of the desert. Further, you can also fill up your water supplied with water. The provided water, however, is just common tap water. So unless your european tastebuds have adjusted to the chlorine taste of it, you should consider bringing sufficient water supplies, lime or lemon juice to tone down the chlorine, or you have to settle for spending a lot of money to purchase bottled water from the vending machines in the visitors’ center. From the parking lot, you and your car proceed to the entrance station where you have to pay an entrance fee or how they word it ‘recreational use fee’ of $3 for everyone older than 15. Dogs are permitted but have to be kept on leash at any time. For neither dogs nor horses fees have to be paid.

After passing through a no-stopping-corridor you are free to stop at any parking lot and explore the desert on your own. There also are guided tours. Silke and I took several short hikes and a lot of pictures. So please enjoy the scenery.

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I named this blogpost ‘The most silent place in the US?’ because I have never experienced such a mind-blowing silence. There were no singing birds, no airplanes, no whistling winds, no cars, no noise at all. Few animals live in this desert, some bugs, some lizards, and some rattlesnakes. We were really lucky as it had ‘cooled down’ and the temperature was in the 90s (roughly 35°C), but as it usually is above 100 and little water surviving is quite the task. We did not find any snake but we saw some bugs and found a little lizard. The lizards have adjusted to the white color of the sands and blend in well.

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The drive back passed by rather quickly and was filled with adventures. At first, after passing Las Cruces we got into a border control check point. In Las Cruces the 25 – which is the north-south connection – and the 10 – which runs along the US-Mexican border and connects east and west – meet and so it is a popular road for people trying to get into the US. So at these check points you have to show your ID, proof that you are in the US legally, and may have to answer some questions. While we had no reason to be worried, I got a little nervous but overall it was an interesting experience. With the open borders in Europe you rarely are confronted with border control so crossing borders with control, e.g. entering Switzerland, tend to make me nervous.
The sunset put the nature into a really great light which made playing with the DSLR a lot of fun. It also was one of the ‘Supermoon’ nights. While the camera did not have the greatest telephoto lens, the pictures of the moon turned out considerably well.
Later, we got into a heavy thunderstorm with strong winds, so we slowed down and needed a little longer to get home.

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I hope you enjoyed this report of the trip because there are more to come. Please leave me a comment or a like, I really appreciate it.

xx

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