I originally was thinking of this trip as the anniversary-that-wasn’t-trip. It would have been my 31st anniversary. But because it started at White Sands National Monument, which is surrounded by White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base and ended on a ridge above Los Alamos, New Mexico home to the Manhattan Project for developing the atomic bomb, I decided it was a Department of Defense tour.
I had tried once before to camp at White Sands, but back then, the dates for missile testing weren’t announced more than a few days in advance and the day before I was to leave, there was to be testing during the time I wanted to camp, so it was closed. The sand is gypsum: white and fine. The changes of color as the light changed was amazing to watch and short lived. I set up camp 8/10 mile in on the backcountry camping loop. They request that the tent be pitched within 5’ of the posted sign designating the camp. It had been raining for several days before, so the walking was easy (for sand dunes, anyway). Knowing that there were supposed to be thunderstorms that evening, I set up camp in late afternoon & walked back to the trailhead to lounge in the shade until evening. My tent was a brand new tent that was to be inaugurated on this trip, and, boy, was it ever! I’m used to thunderstorms that last about a half an hour. this one lasted more like 7 hours! Thunder, lightning, and wind gave the tent a beating, but my dog & I stayed dry & cozy. Normally, as soon as it gets windy, she’s out of the tent. This time, she poked her nose under the fly for a few seconds, then turned around and curled up next to me for the night. Several hours after the storm stopped, I was awakened by loud voices of the people camped over the next dune. I grumbled at their lack of etiquette, but it was time to get up & find a place to shoot the sunrise. When the light started hitting the dunes, I was like a kid in a candy store, turning in every direction to catch the light as it transformed the sand from blue to pink and finally to white.
Next stop was to some badlands outside of Bernalillo. I had been there several times before, but wasn’t satisfied with the conditions I’d had. Sunset still didn’t quite do it for me, so when I woke up at 1:30am, I hiked back in to catch the Milky Way over the petroglyphs. From there, I wandered along the Jemez River, ending up in the Santa Fe National Forest above Los Alamos, where a wildfire in 2011 (Las Conchas) had burned 156,293 acres, destroying 63 homes after another in 2000 (Cerro Grande) burned 47,650 acres and damaged or destroyed more than 400 homes. With a wet spring, the land looked like it was recovering well. I was watching the dramatic clouds over Los Alamos when it occurred to me that maybe I should take a picture..... Sawyers were at work at 6:30 am the day of the non-anniversary, so after whispering, “happy anniversary dear” (upon which my dog perked up, looking for deer) I was up for the day. We went for a hike where, using my late husband’s camera, I gathered a digital bouquet of wildflowers and headed into Santa Fe for a nice dinner at our favorite restaurant.