White Sands and Alamogordo

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Noun Sequitur, Jun 20, 2016.

  1. Noun Sequitur

    Noun Sequitur My Feet Hurt

    We took the kids on this trip a couple years ago.

    The drive to White Sands is a great opportunity to reflect on history. Highway 380 passes north of Jornada del Muerto and the Trinity Site (usually closed to the public). New Mexico legend/history always has that touch of speculation and conspiracy that makes it so entertaining. For example, the San Andres mountains are almost entirely within White Sands Missile Range. The mountain range is off-limits and includes Victorio Peak, home to one of the most awesome lost treasure stories in the west. BUT the treasure may not be there anymore because government. I remember reading a book about the Victorio treasure as a kid and have dreamt of gold bars ever since.

    There is plenty of scenery as well. The highway goes through the middle of a rough and tumble lava field.

    The topo declares this to be "THE MALPAIS". That's not much help since every lava field in New Mexico is named "MAPLPAIS". I found the way to tell the difference though... the other lava field is named "EL MALPAIS", not "THE". You can thank me later if you ever get lost in one of them and you're not sure which one.
    THE Malpais.png

    White Sands is kind of a weird park. The park entrance is not too far from Alamogordo and Holloman AFB, but it seems like you've traveled to another planet. Tucked into the middle of White Sands Missie Range, the park is occasional closed for military reasons... missile tests and other mysterious goings on. Check the website before planning your trip as closings are usually posted in advance.

    The edge of the dunes feature plant life tenaciously holding on.

    Before long the plants disappear, along with the road.

    The place is beautiful.

    Even the picnic area has an aesthetic touch
    After seeing the sights, it was time to get down to business.

    They sell these sleds at the park entrance, or you can bring a better one along. These worked pretty good... especially when we waxed the bottoms.

    I haven't mentioned this yet, but our trip was in the middle of July and it was astoundingly hot. If you want to experience the brutal truth of the desert, plan your trip for mid summer. We didn't overdo it on this day though... once everyone had enough, we took refuge in the car, cranked the AC and ate our sandwiches. Then we headed to Alamogordo.

    Alamogordo is home to the excellent International Space Hall of Fame. It is also home to one of the most incredible and utterly insane pieces of machinery ever built by human hands... this F-1 rocket engine.
    The F-1 engines remain the most powerful single chamber liquid rocket engines ever made. Five of these engines powered the first stage of the Saturn V rockets used for the Apollo program. Each engine produced 1.5 million pounds of thrust and consumed 671 gallons of fuel a second.

    These engines were stitched together by hand. If you know anything about welding, you will recognize this engine as a work of art.


    And now to truly blow your mind... each of these massive engines was designed and built to be used for only 150 seconds. That's all the time they needed to boost the Saturn V to a height of 42 miles and 6,164 miles an hour.

    The museum has lots of other cool stuff. We easily spent a couple hours there. Afterward we headed south on 70 through the missile range. I didn't really take any pics. There were tall fences along the road, ominous looking buildings in the distance, and lots of signs with long acronyms. At the southern end of the missile range are the Organ Mountains. They are beautiful and instead of looking at the picture below, you should do yourself a favor and google a nice looking sunset picture of them.

    We wrapped the day up with dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Las Cruces and had loads of fun with the oversize novelty sombrero. No pics. My phone ran out of ..er... film.

    To Do list for next trip:
    (1) The Trinity site is open for visitors about once a year I think. I'm going to try to catch it next time.
    (2) The Three Rivers petroglyph site is in the area. Didn't have time on this trip.
    (3) The monument apparently has a proper backcountry trail and campsite. Will definitely have to do an overnighter here when it's not a million degrees.
    (4) Sunset pics!
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2016
    River, Curt, piper01 and 4 others like this.
  2. Vegan.Hiker

    Vegan.Hiker TR or it didn't happen

    Mahwah, NJ
    What an interesting place. White sandy dunes, fighter pilot engines, and sledding. Who knew?
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2016
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  3. piper01

    piper01 Member

    Houston, TX
    That sled looks familiar. I bought a green one when I went!

    I agree that the rocket engine is a work of art, particularly your second picture of it.
    Noun Sequitur likes this.
  4. Curt

    Curt Member

    Lincoln, NE
    Can't say how much I enjoyed your trip report. I went to college in Las Cruces and have been to White Sands many times. I agree with you about how it can be DAMN hot there. One of my biggest regrets from college is that I didn't go to the Trinity Site. It took me 6 years to get through 4 years of college so I had several opportunities to go to the Trinity Site, but for one lame reason or another, I never went. You are right. They only open it once a year. I'm told that there really is nothing there -- but a plaque and history.

    I didn't know anything about the Space Hall of Fame. I don't get back there very often anymore but I'm going to go looking for it next time. Thank you!

    On a side note... the Jornada Del Muerto (Dead man's route) - that 70 mile length of lava flows in the Rio Grand valley was given that name by the Conquistadors coming up from Mexico in the 1500's as went looking for the City of Gold. They were the first ones to put that name on a map. Apparently everyone that followed agreed with them and so the name is still there today. My 5th grade teacher would be proud to know that I was actually listening when he was talking about New Mexico history. Interstate 25 runs parallel to the Jornada and there are no exits along that 70 miles. For a long time the interstate was only 2 lanes along there even though there aren't hardly any other north-south roads in that region. When I was driving that a lot in the 70's and 80's it saw hardly any traffic. It wasn't unusual to see only 5 to 10 other cars in that 70 miles. The presence of the missile range, the Jornada, and the lack of north-south roads accounts for the Border Patrol roadblock of the northbound lanes on I-25 just north of Truth Or Consequences. Its not quite as bad as crossing the U.S./Mexican border cause you don't have to produce a passport, but I have almost always seen cars and semi's being searched and people taken out of their cars to be questioned.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2016
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  5. Noun Sequitur

    Noun Sequitur My Feet Hurt

    Thanks for the background info @Curt . I looked up the museum to double check my memory and it's actually called the New Mexico Museum of Space History ( http://www.nmspacemuseum.org/ ) I guess the hall of fame is a part of it. It says hall of fame on the big sign out front, so that's how I remember it. I definitely recommend it... loaded with cool stuff and great for kids.
    Curt likes this.
  6. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

    Nice! Those engine shots are sweet!