Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Alamogordo, New Mexico

March 31 - April 6, 2015:

Walking up the dunes

A smooth ride from Las Cruces on route 70 north over the San Augustin Pass and then down into the expansive Tularosa Basin and through the White Sands Missile Range to the White Sands National Monument.  We stopped at the visitors Center to case the joint, watched the movie and got some information.  We then travelled to Alamogordo and find our way to the Boot Hill RV Park and get settled into a full hookup site where we will reside for the next week.

View from San Augustin Pass
The White Sands National Monument has a wonderful visitor center built in the 1930s by the WPA as are so many of our National Park facilities are.  White Sands is unusual in that the sand here is composed of Gypsum unlike the usual Quartz sand at coastal beach areas or most other deserts.  The Gypsum over the last million or so years eroded from the rocks of the surrounding mountains and washed down into the Tularosa Basin.  The water collected in a huge lake, Lake Otero, which over time evaporated leaving behind Gypsum crystals called Selenite. The Selenite was then blown by the wind and broken down into the fine powder that now forms the dunes.  The Basin still collects water from the mountains resulting in a water table that is very close to the surface to help stabilize the dunes and results in temporary flooding of the salt flats between the sand dunes with heavy rains.  
We went for a couple of short hikes while there, first on the backcountry hiking trail for about a mile and then latter on the Alkali Flat Trail.  The walking was up and down over the dunes, easier walking than normal beach sand dunes, but the brightness of the sun reflected off the pure white of the dunes was brutal.  The vastness of this dunes landscape and the incredible whiteness of it all is really special. Sun glasses are essential !  We returned for a ranger led sunset walk and talk in the evening.  The dunes are particularly beautiful in the morning or evening hours and supposedly glittering under a full moon in the summer when you are allowed to stay in the park latter. 

The classic visitor center

Sledding on the dunes is a big attraction

That's Twinkles on top of the dune for perspective

THe sunset stroll group

Sumac roots hold the sand together resulting in a pedestal

Sunset view

Alamogordo is one of the first planned communities in New Mexico that was laid out by it's founder Charles Bishop Eddy in 1998.  Mr. Eddy was a mover and a shaker of his day and a devout tea totaler.  In his town, no intoxicating Liquor was allowed.  Strangely, even today there are no "real" bars in town.  It was a planned community in that he was a building a railroad from El Paso north into the Sacramento Mountains and it was a convenient location for a town along the way.  The object was the gold fields of White Oaks and the timber in the Sacramento Mountains.  In 1898 he established the El Paso and Northeastern Railway which eventually made it into the Sacamento mountains.  It was an engineering marvel of its day as it had to climb 4,747 feet over 28 miles with 122 bridges and 58 trestles. An unexpected by product of this became tourism at the town of Cloudcroft which became the place for fresh cool mountain air. The last train ran in 1947 and today not much is left except the Mexican Canyon rail trestle and trails along the old right of way. 

Alamogordo today is not so attractive as a city but has the beautiful backdrop of the Sacramento mountain range. It has a small historic downtown core that seems deserted, but has much potential.  That being said, there are several bright spots such as the historic park, the Otero County Administration building, the Flickinger Center for Performing Arts and the old Plaza building that is being renovated as the new home of the museum.  The city has expanded out from the old downtown, as most do, where the new big box stores, fast food, chain restaurants and such now capitalize the commercial world. 

Loved the satellite theme to the sign 

A memorial in Alamogordo to the WWII airborne division

Historic downtown park to early settlers

A couple of nice downtown buildings

Otero County building in Alamogordo

Peter Hurd murals on doorway to above building

Old movie theater in town

This is a great place to find an old car, there are many junkyards loaded with vintage cars or parts. I visited the "North 54 Salvage yard", the second best junkyard I have ever had the pleasure of visiting !

1939 Plymouth sedan

A line up of 30's vintage cars in the weeds

Alamogordo has a couple of great museums as well, the Tularosa Basin Historical Society Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Space History.  The area north of Alamogordo is all military with Holloman Air Force base, the White Sands Missile Range and the White Sands Space Harbor.  Much of the US rocket, missile and space flight research and testing takes place in this area.

Painting of the railroad going into the Sacramento Mountains to Cloudcroft

Fastest man alive - Colonel John Stapp who did
acceleration and deceleration testing on rocket sleds

View of the Space Museum grounds from inside museum building

F-1 Rocket Engine,  five of these engines were used on the Saturn V Rocket
which carried men to the moon

A new hot industry here is Pistachio nut orchards and winery's.  The RV park is across the highway from the World's largest Pistachio.

Twinkles in front of the World's largest Pistachio
Tularosa is the oldest town in the Tularosa Basin and really has an old Mexican flavor.  Most of the classic old downtown buildings are vacant, for sale or for rent.  There are a few antique and art/craft type shops operating, but such much potential here waiting to be developed.

View of the old downtown

The St. Francis de Paula Church built in 1868

Route 54 north from Tularosa takes you into the Mescalero Apache Reservation area with great roadside artwork along the highway.  The Apaches are doing OK, as far as tribes go, but poverty still looks plentiful here.

Roadside mural

Another Mural

Another cool area to visit is the town of Cloudcroft and at 8,668 foot elevation it often is really cool.  The ride there is half the fun as it is all uphill from Alamogordo, as in 4,000 feet uphill into the Sacramento Mountains.  Once there, the town is sort of a tourist trap, but the country is so beautiful and there are a several hiking trails and a ski area in the winter.  The original Alamogordo and Sacramento Railroad line is now a "Rails to Trails" project and the Mexican Canyon Trestle was rebuilt although it is not open to walk across.  We hiked the "Cloud climbing trestle trail" to the Mexican Canyon Trestle.  Along the way we passed the "Devils elbow viewing deck and the remains of a "S curve trestle".  The trail is around 8,500 foot elevation with considerable up and down through a beautiful forest with very interesting Gypsum rocks.
Highway view along the way

Reamins of the "S Trestle" from the trail

The rebuilt Mexican Canyon Trestle

Nice forest trail

Cloudcroft downtown area

Another great hike is the Dog Canyon trail from Oliver Lee State Park trailhead.  The trail is about 6-7 miles roundtrip with 1,500 foot elevation gain and lots of steps and rocks.  It is a beautiful trail that takes you to the remains of an old rock cabin next to a small stream.  The cabin belonged to Francois-Jean (Frenchy) Rochas who some attribute as the builder of the miraculous spiral stairway in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe.  He was found dead due to a rifle wound here in 1894, an unsolved crime. The flowers along the trail were fantastic ! It was a tough hike, we were beat by trails end.  Dog Canyon was an Apache stronghold and there was a battle in this area during the Indian wars.

Trail view into Dog Canyon

Another trail view

View from the access road to the State Park

Yellow flowers were everywhere along the trail

Cholla Cactus view along the trail

Remains of Frenchy's Cabin, could be his original bed

Mountain stream near the cabin was refreshing

Next stop is El Paso, Texas;

Twinkles and Slick

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