Alamogordo NM/White Sands National Monument

IMG_2854 with text

I had never heard of White Sands National Monument before we started planning our trip through New Mexico. Maybe it’s because I’m from the East Coast and I had never heard anyone talking about going there, but this gem of a park was not on our radar until we started looking for a stop-over to break up the trip between Albuquerque and El Paso, TX.

Our visit to the park began at the visitor’s center with a short video explaining why the sand is white, the animals that live in this unique environment, and an overall history of the region. Then we headed deeper into the park to experience the phenomenon for ourselves. The reflection of the sun off of the white sand is particularly strong, so sun protection is important. We chose one of the many roofed (shaded!) picnic tables to eat our packed lunch, but the kids were too eager to get out on the dunes to eat a whole lot that day.

We were staying at a campground in nearby Alamogordo (see campground review below) that had sleds available to borrow for trips to White Sands. Since we live in a place that generally has about 6-7 months of snow each year, sledding isn’t exactly exotic for us, but it seemed to be the thing to do at White Sands so we gave it a shot. The white gypsum sand has a different texture than the sand we’re used to. It feels more like baby powder or flour. But it isn’t slippery. So while it was exotic to sled down a sand dune, it didn’t go very fast and much of the time we were pushing ourselves down the hill with our feet. Maybe we were doing it wrong? It was fun and we took a bunch of pictures, but we also realized pretty quickly that this was not an all-day activity.

IMG_2854

IMG_2847

IMG_2851

IMG_2838

IMG_2830

So we grabbed the park map and picked a few hiking trails. One was the Dune Life nature trail, a stroller and wheelchair accessible boardwalk with regular placards talking about different aspects of plant and animal life in this unusual habitat. It was a short, easy walk and we learned a lot.

IMG_2866

Lizard tracks spotted from the nature trail

But we were also up for more of a challenge. So we drove to another trail head and exchanged the stroller for the backpack carrier. We found a loop trail that went up onto some dune ridges and wound around showing different examples of plant and animal life. We quickly realized that there really isn’t any footwear that is well-suited to such a trail, and it wasn’t long before the whole family was barefoot. Staffan, who generally prefers hiking barefoot anyway, particularly enjoyed this rare occasion when the rest of us also ditched our shoes. As much as we enjoyed sledding near the picnic area and the boardwalk nature trail, getting away from the road and crossing the dunes with the sand between our toes was definitely the best way to experience the park, in our opinion. It’s not a strenuous hike, but definitely something we’d recommend. The park also offers moonlit hikes and stargazing, and maybe someday we’ll go back with older kids who can stay up a little later to experience that.

IMG_2839

IMG_2870

IMG_2876

During our weekend in Alamogordo, NM we stayed at the Alamogordo Roadrunner Campground. The campground seems to have changed quite a bit since we were there, including new ownership and becoming part of KOA, which they were not when we were there. The rates seem to have gone up a bit as well, but here’s a review based on how we experienced it:

Price: $29/night. We stayed 2 nights
Location: a relatively convenient 15 miles from White Sands National Monument. Just a short distance from the main road through Alamogordo, which offers a variety of stores and restaurants.
Facilities: sturdy concrete picnic table/benches, a light at each site. Bathroom/shower facilities were clean and reasonable.
Site-description: gravel sites, relatively close together
Neighborhood: there seemed to be a number of families that were living there long-term, which is a different environment than an RV park catering to shorter stays. This is probably a lot different now, though, if it’s a KOA. The staff was very friendly and helpful!
Website: http://www.roadrunnercampground.com/
Comments: The opportunity to borrow sleds for free for our trip to White Sands was very much appreciated! I hope they still offer that! Sorry, we forgot to take a picture of the campsite.

Advertisements

Sight-Missing in Albuquerque

Because of our visit to the Petrified Forest in Arizona, we didn’t reach Albuquerque, New Mexico until late evening. We were well past our goal of being off the road every day by 4pm and even needed to pick up dinner along the road. Our kids are great in the car, but everyone has limits, and none of us are at our best when we’re tired and hungry.

So we may have been a bit ragged when we arrived at the home of our old friends who so kindly hosted us while we were in Albuquerque. By “old friends” I mean the kind of friends who we haven’t seen in at least 20 years (I was in middle school or perhaps even younger – none of us could remember exactly when it was) but who still opened their home to us when we were in the area. Bob was my dad’s best friend in high school and they went on to serve in the Air Force together. Though they kept in touch over the years, living on opposite sides of the country made it difficult for them and their families to get together very often. As it turned out, Bob was out of town the week that we came to town, but his wife El received us very graciously. We worked out all the details over Facebook with Bob’s oldest daughter Melinda. Once again, Facebook to the rescue!

We camped in their driveway, which was probably a little too steeply sloped for Home Sweet Pop-up, but with the help of all the extra boards we had with us, plus a few from their garage, it worked. Late October in Albuquerque was much colder than it had been in Arizona, and we considered moving inside since it was available. But the space heater kept it comfortable enough, and we decided it was better to avoid interrupting the kids’ sleep routines too much.

IMG_2822It doesn’t look too bad from a distance…

IMG_2824

But this set up made me a little nervous.

There are probably a lot of very interesting things to see and do in and around the Albuquerque area. We didn’t do any of them. After a couple of weeks of pretty intense sight-seeing, we found ourselves saturated. After browsing a number of sight-seeing options, we opted for a day of “sight-missing”. What we found was a Fall Festival for kids – with free entry no less! – and decided to go there first. It turned out to be so great that we stayed the whole day.

IMG_2774

This was perhaps the best thing ever. Like a cross between a ball pit and a sandbox, filled entirely with corn. I can’t even estimate how much corn was in there. It was huge. The kids loved it!

IMG_2770I’m still not sure how we ever got them out of there.  IMG_2768Who knew you could have so much fun with a muffin tin? Will have to remember this for the sandbox!

IMG_2791Then they had a hay bale maze…

IMG_2788And a giant tube slide…

IMG_2811And whatever these would be called…? They’re super fun anyway.

IMG_2816But quite a workout as it turns out. 

IMG_2813Poor Peter was too young for a lot of things, but he thought it was fun to watch his big sister

IMG_2818Bean bag toss is always good…

IMG_2820And a plastic bowling set. Nice follow through!

IMG_2795And these seem to be obligatory everywhere.
Emelie says, “Do I really look like a cow?” 

IMG_2796Finally something Peter can do too (with a little help)

On the way home, we stopped at one of those frozen yogurt bars that I’d been dying to try. We had the place to ourselves and the friendly older gentleman working there gave us great a yogurt bar tutorial. It’s my new favorite thing! I wish they had those in Sweden, but it’s probably better for our waistlines and bank accounts that they don’t.

So we opted to skip all the tourist sites of Albuquerque and enjoyed a fun, relaxed and free (except the yogurt) day playing in the sun together. It was refreshing, and it was absolutely the right decision. After an evening of visiting and a second night in our somewhat precariously balanced camper, we were on the road again and heading south.

IMG_3159Pajama party and hair brushing with El

IMG_3166“Hanging” with Melinda’s son

IMG_3160Just give me some blocks and I’m a happy boy!