Monthly Archives: November 2017

Alamogordo NM to Albuquerque NM: Mile 6598.4

When we got dinner at Lowe’s Signature Market, on our only night in Alamogordo, we got breakfast for today. Then we dropped by White Sands, just to see it in bright sunlight, before hitting the road to my sister’s in Albuquerque. Our original plan was to stay south but both of us were a little burned out and going to my sister’s was almost like going home for a break.

We only had a short time to check out the dunes in full sunlight which was OK by me. I don’t wear sunglasses and the dunes were painfully bright (although this picture doesn’t show it).
The exposure on the dried grass is about right even though I over-exposed this shot by about four f-stops to give an idea of how bright it was.
We left Alamogordo on a divided highway to…
Tularosa NM.
Then the road got smaller and the country got bigger.

There is something about graffiti, especially on train cars, that appeals to me. On one level, it is vandalism but the defacing makes them more interesting. All that effort put into something that the artist will probably never see again.
As we head north, we run up the Colorado Plateau and then make an almost straight beeline for Highway 40…
where we get gas under the watchful eye of a raven and then…
down into the greater Rio Grande Valley,…
where the trees have changed color since we left about five weeks ago.


Some Pics from White Sands

White Sands National Monument is not what I expected. I’ve been to and hiked around numerous sand dune formations in deserts – and, probably, more than dozens at beaches – and I expected the sand dunes at White Sands to be more like Eureka Dunes or the main dune field in Death Valley. They aren’t and not just because they are white – slightly gray on our trip because, I’ve since learned, they were damp from a recent rainfall – they also have a different texture and are much lower than I expected. This is because they are gypsum – hydrous calcium sulfate, if you prefer – not quartz, silicon dioxide, most of us are used to. Sand, it turns out, is defined by size, not material (according to Wikipedia, it is “finer than gravel and coarser than silt”.

What I don’t know is how all this gypsum got here. What I do know is that this area shares a similar general history to the nearby – relatively speaking, that is – Carlsbad and Wolfcamp areas. About 280 to 250 million years ago, the land on earth was one supercontinent – with some smaller island arcs and isolated islands – which geologists have named Pangaea. As an aside, Pangaea was not the only supercontinent. The basis of modern geology is that the plates – sections of earth, imagine the different sections of a soccer ball – move around, driven by currents deep in the liquid core of the earth. These plates have, over about 4.5 billion years, come together to form supercontinents more than once, more likely more than five times, building mountains and raising seabeds and then bounced or drifted apart forming isolated land masses like North America or Africa. End aside. Anyway, at the edge of Pangaea was a shallow sea in which, over millions of years, layers of sediment collected. In this local area – and this is what I don’t quite understand, why only here? – gypsum, which is water-soluble, collected in the layers. About 70 million years ago, the Farallon Plate started slipping under the North American Plate lifting this part of the world, exposing the layered gypsum. About 30 million years ago, the Farallon Plate also started stretching the earth apart in this area, with the Nevadan Basin and Range, and the land that is now White Sands National Monument dropped, forming the large basin we drove into a couple of hours ago. About 24 to 12 thousand years ago, during the last Ice Age, large amounts of gypsum were washed into the basin, forming a lake without an outlet. Recently, geologically speaking, that lake dried up exposing the gypsum deposits, crystallizing them, and winds have blown the now sand into what is now White Sands National the Monument, for us to enjoy on a warm afternoon.      

El Paso TX to Alamogordo NM: Mile 6310.4

El Paso is a desert border town and a military town which, IMHO, are two strikes against it. But, I am also prejudged on this, I was stationed at Fort Bliss – the Military Base that makes this a military town – for training in a Surface to Air missile system called HAWK (Homing All the Way Killer) from March 1963 to January 1964 when I was transferred to an active unit in Korea and then from April to June 1965 when I came back from Korea and ended up teaching Germans at the nearby Orogrande Missile Range. 

Being in the Army for three years was a major influence on my life, much of it good and some not so good. When I was in the military, it was an almost universal American male coming of age experience.  Yes, if someone didn’t want to go in the military and had the means to get a deferment, they were able to stay out, but that was more of an exception than a rule. Like most men my age, by the time I was in my early twenties, we had actually contributed at least two years – three in my case – to our country. I was exposed to other men, many from vastly different social and economic backgrounds, who I would never have met otherwise; not only exposed to but lived with, and, in many cases, befriended, which I give at least partial credit for why I am more tolerant of Trump voters than most of my friends. But, most importantly and somewhat counter-intuitively, the draft makes war less likely. People revolted against the Vietnam War because they or their relatives might go. Now,  with a so-called Professional Military, war does not involve the citizenry. Now, because almost nobody has been in the military, killing people in faraway lands is looked upon as a noble cause. Now we say, “Thank you for your service.” instead of protesting our wars. End of rant. 

Since, by the luck of using the internet, our motel was almost next door to Fort Bliss, we decided to visit and look around. (BTW, it turns out that we couldn’t just go onto the base to drive and look around, we had to go through a security check, in a pre-gate area, and then have a reason to go on base, in our case the reason was to go to the museum. Not shown is a series of about 15 cameras that looked into our car from different angles).
War has been good to the Army, at least at Fort Bliss, the old wooden PX is now a spiffy Marketplace and there are new buildings everywhere.
All that is left of my old HAWK outfit except for…
the barracks, we lived in (and the mess hall in which I first heard of the Kennedy assassination.
After our Fort Bliss excursion, we went into El Paso, itself, for lunch at Tabla where we had an excellent “simple” salad – anything but simple with avocado, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, parmesan cheese, and a herbed vinaigrette – Brussel sprouts, and Pork Belly Wraps. Brussel sprouts and pork belly, neither of which were around ten years ago, are now on almost every menu in what I would call New Style Restaurants.
BTW, while guns may be legal, most places we went didn’t want them. We only saw one guy with a gun in all our travels. This sign was typical.
After lunch, we went to the Rocketbuster Boot Factory where Michele was tempted by a pair of exquisite mules.
After lunch and after Rocketbuster, we wandered around the newly gentrified warehouse area that housed them both. It was very nice but somewhat empty. It was, however, next to a bustling Hispanic area…
where I got a very welcome cappuccino. Then we blew town, heading for White Sands.
We drove along “the wall” for a while…
looking throw the pickets into Juarez, Mexico.
We wandered through a maze of new freeway construction…
until we finally got untangled and crossed back into New Mexico about ten miles up the freeway.
After a few miles of freeway driving, we turned right and took US 70 over Augustin Pass…
into a large, flat, valley (a graben, really, as this area is part of the Basin and Range and is a dropped block caused by the Earth’s stretching).


As we drive across the flat valley floor, we start to see white sand dunes on our left.
and arrays of cameras on our right. At first, I think this is because we are passing through the White Sands Missile Range but now I’m inclined to think it is part of our “border security”.
Driving through the dunes at White Sands is like driving past a snowfield.


The road is even plowed as if it were snow.
We wandered around in the warm, fading, light; soaking up the soft beauty of the land and the light, feeling as much as seeing the day end.

After getting gas, we went to Lowe’s Super Market to get a take out dinner – the food was surprisingly good, if not very memorable – and then to our eat it.


Whites City to El Paso: Mile 6132.2

El Paso is about 144 and two hours and 25 minutes miles from Whites City, according to Google and that is about what it took us. We started on a four-lane divided highway that goes between Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains Nation Park named, creatively enough, National Park Highway.  

The highway makes a straight beeline, southwest, for Texas and then turns almost due west just before the border as if it didn’t really want to go to Texas.
Just as we enter Texas, the highway contracts to two lanes and starts getting more interesting. 
Thank you, Texas.
We run along the southern edge of the Guadalupe Mountains. These are the highest mountains in Texas – the only mountains, really – and Michele and I are both thrilled to be in the mountains again.
When asked to sum up his four book masterpiece on geology, John McPhee said, “If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.”. Now, we are looking up at a 4,000-foot thick marine deposit that was formed when it was a shallow sea at the edge of what was, at the time, the only continent on Earth, Pangea about 275 million years ago.  About 12 million years ago, this area was raised up by the Farallon Plate sliding under the North American Plate. 
From a high point in the Guadalupe Mountains, we drop down into the Rio Grande Basin for an uneventful drive to El Paso,
much of the time driving directly into the setting sun and lengthening shadows. 

We ended our drive at the Scenic Drive Overlook, looking down at El Paso and Juarez like any other tourist, and we ended the day at the Hoppy Monk where we had excellent Lamb barbacoa tacos, Rabbit tacos, suburb Veggie empanadas, and a pretty good Beet and Kale salad. 

Whites City through the Wolfcamp Field

This is the largest estimate of continuous oil that USGS has ever assessed in the United States. The Wolfcamp shale in the Midland Basin portion of Texas’ Permian Basin province contains an estimated mean of 20 billion barrels of oil, 16 trillion cubic feet of associated natural gas, and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. From a November 15, 2016, USGS Report.

It turned out that, without knowing it, Michele and I had wandered into the Wolfcamp Shale area of the Midland Basin when we were forced to turn around and take another road into the Carlsbad area a couple of nights ago. Because we had really only seen it in the dark, we decided to detour back to see it in daylight. BTW, Michele was driving and I was photographing on this part of the trip. Riding through the Wolfcamp area was the closest I will ever get to Deadwood; this is the 21st Century equivalent to an old-timey Gold Rush, an Oil Rush with corporations doing the rushing. It was both hellishly repellant and strangely compelling.

After breakfast at the Cactus Cafe in Whites City, we drive down the small back road we had used to get Whites City two nights ago. It is the kind of road we often see driving through ranching country in Nevada except that the countryside is flat and empty.
We pass old, almost picturesque, falling down barns and houses, sometimes replaced with newer, but abandoned trailers. 
As we deeper into the former emptiness, we run into trucks….
and then more trucks, under impossibly blue skies.
Everybody is in a hurry to get someplace and the roads are too small to carry the traffic but they are being improved. This is dry, dry, land with only an occasional “gully washer” and one of the improvements are signs that tell the truckers how deep the standing water is in a low spot on the road.
There are trucks every couple hundred feet, for miles (look closely between the first two trucks).
We pass lots of tractors hauling these specialized containers. BTW, by “tractor”, I mean the road machine pulling the trailer.
Everything here had to be trucked here. These huge drill towers are hauled in sections in trucks that take up almost the whole road.
This huge drill rig stands on its tippy toes like it doesn’t want to get dirty, which, considering how dusty it can get, is probably a stellar idea. This is not a cheap operation…
and, apparently,  it is not very safe, either.
Fortunately, there are doctors nearby, or, going by the cars in the parking lot, one doctor. If you can’t read the sign, it says “XstremeMD” (actually, even if you can read it, it says “XstremeMD”).
There are trucks everywhere and…
and they need to be loaded and unloaded which often requires specialized equipment. 

Of course the workers have to live somewhere and we ran into several of these encampments, for lack of a better term. On the sign, the second Bylaw says “Watch for Children”
This is Signor Lodge and they were still setting it up when we drove through.
The newly built – moved in? – Orla General Store with four food trucks behind it.
We talked about having lunch here and then lost our nerve.

All in all, while the area we wandered around is huge, I think the number of workers numbers in the thousands, not tens of thousands. However, they are continuing to survey and more people are arriving every day.

We stopped to talk to a couple of guys surveying for new sites. When I talked to them, I said, “This is amazing.” and one answered, “I wouldn’t say amazing, but it is…something.”

After several hours of traffic jamming with big trucks, we were almost out of gas, so we went back to Whites City to gas up. BTW, we were the only SUV we saw, everybody that wasn’t driving a huge truck hauling something was driving a huge pickup, like a Ford 250 or bigger. 

To be continued…