Day #11 of the West Trip: Here, kitty kitty!

We were up at 6:00 a.m. and caffeinated (mostly!), unhooked, and on the road by 6:40 a.m., just as the sky was turning a slate gray and light was peaking over the horizon. I was worried that we had missed the mark and would arrive at our carefully selected sunrise spot late, but thank goodness we left when there was some light! It wasn’t even five minutes after we left that we turned the corner, and lo and behold, there was another palomino in the road! I doubt it was the same palomino, since the one from yesterday was probably a good thirty miles away, but it was quite the coincidence! This time, it was my turn to swerve (Only slightly! No sudden movements in this thing!) and curse, but I missed him! I thought the excitement of the day was driving through the herd of cows out of Goulding’s, but they had no interest in playing chicken with our front bumper like the horses seem to.

We pulled up at our spot, and my partner jumped out with her camera gear. We’ve learned that the desert is freezing cold after the sun goes down and just before it comes up, so we were in layers. I finished drinking my tea while she found the perfect spot, and then, satisfied that I was as awake as I was going to get, I went out to join her.

Monuments sunrise.jpg

I snapped a few pictures, and then I was off to do my usual exploring while she sat patiently, staring through her camera lens and waiting for the perfect shot.  I walked maybe five feet before a set of tracks caught my eye. They were huge. I knelt down and placed my hand beside one, and the print was as big as my hand! I have tiny hands, but still! I knew what they were almost immediately, even if they were a little amorphous. My elementary school’s mascot was a panther. I spent four years hopping off my school bus and following the pink panther paws painted on the sidewalk to class, so I recognized them in the mud as soon as I saw them. They made my hair stand on end, and I rushed back to my partner. They looked old, but that didn’t mean we weren’t being watched.

Panther print

We got some beautiful sunrise pictures, and then we went back to Goulding’s. We managed to get a lot of exploring done yesterday, so we decided to spend the middle of the day doing laundry and catching up on blog posts and photo editing.

Instead, we fell asleep and didn’t wake up until lunch. Having the adventure of a lifetime takes a lot out of you!

We woke up only to realize that we had to do laundry. Going eleven days without doing a single load was long enough!

But first, we had to find the quarters. Yes, the same ones we looked for at White Sands. I think you can see where this is going.

After an hour and a half of ripping the RV apart, I called my mom.

“Did we happen to leave anything in the car? Maybe a bag with quarters in it?”

Come to find out, she had found it days ago in the basement closet. How it got there, we’ll never know, but she was disappointed to find out that she wasn’t rich!

Thankfully, of all the things we could have forgotten, quarters are easy to replace. We exchanged quarters in the office and went on with the mundane task of doing laundry, followed by grocery shopping at the Goulding’s grocery store, which was very nice! We made it a point to skip the soup aisle. No more chicken noodle soup for a while!

A day of napping and chores was rewarded with another sunset in Monument Valley and another set of panther tracks, which just about gave me a heart attack, but we made it through the evening with nothing eventful happening. This time, I even remembered to take a picture with the “Forrest Gump Sign,” which marks where Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run in the movie.

Monuments sunset #2

Forest Gump

Monuments sunset

Finally, we decided we needed real food. We’re so tired of chicken noodle soup, even if it is convenient when traveling! We ate dinner at the Stagecoach Dining Room at Goulding’s, and I enjoyed a Navajo roast beef sandwich. It was the size of four sandwiches, and it’s going to take me a week to finish it!

Frybread sandwich

We’re doing more sunrise pictures again in the morning (Please, no panthers!), so it’s off to bed! After sunrise pictures, we head for Arches National Park! We’ll be sad to leave Goulding’s behind. It has been the nicest RV park we have stopped at so far, but we’re hoping for more like this in our future!

Day #10 of the West Trip: Monument Valley is a unique treasure!

We decided to sleep in. After our butt-kicking at White Sands followed immediately by two mornings of getting up insanely early and racing off to our locations, only to go on demanding hikes with photography gear, we needed the rest. We’re scheduled to stay two days in Monument Valley, so we decided there’s no real rush. We don’t need to burn out this early in the trip!

We left Moore’s RV Park at 11:00 a.m., right at the mandatory check-out time. I had wanted to be gone by 10:00 a.m., but it took an eternity to fill the fresh water tank, and we decided to wait on it, since we’ve become accustomed to being able to use the bathroom, wash our hands, etc. while we’re driving.

We absolutely loved New Mexico! The sites we stopped at were stunning, and the people were so nice! When we went to Tent Rocks, almost everyone on the trail said hello to us. We stopped at a gas station once, and a guy started talking to us as if he knew us.

That being said, when we crossed into Arizona around lunch time, we were so relieved to escape the New Mexican Roads! I had driven up to that point, and we switched at a gas station. As I eyed our route, it occurred to me that we were extremely close to where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet. Originally, we chose forty-three stops for this trip. Upon realizing that it was impossible to stop at 40+ stops across the continental U.S. in just sixty days, we managed to cut things down to a more manageable (though admittedly still very fast paced!) twenty-seven stops.

One of the things to go was the Four Corners Monument. Imagine my surprise when I plugged it into the GPS and saw that it was only fifteen minutes out of our way! Practically jumping in my seat, I showed the GPS to my partner. She wasn’t quite as excited as I was, but we decided that a quick detour for a picture wouldn’t hurt anything. We’d still get to Monument Valley with plenty of time to explore, and this is supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. Adventures of a lifetime have room for spontaneity!

The Four Corners Monument is maintained by the Navajo Nation, so one of the first things we saw when will parked was Grandma’s Frybread Shack, which is this adorable little spot that sells Navajo cuisine. I’m game to try just about anything I have never eaten before, so I knew exactly where we were eating lunch!

We stopped by the monument first, and we waited in line as everyone snapped their maximum of three pictures on top of the monument. It’s a rather busy tourist attraction, and there were a bunch of people in line, so the picture limit was very understandable. The monument itself is a disk with lines intersecting it to mark each state’s boundary. Within each quadrant is each state’s respective seal and name. I thought it was very well done, and I was happy that we finally got the equivalent of a “Welcome to New Mexico” picture with the bonus of including three other states! Not only that, but we managed to squeeze in a surprise twenty-eighth stop for this trip!

Four Corners

The monument has little booths surrounding it where some of the Navajo sell items like shot glasses, T-shirts, dream catchers, and handmade jewelry. My partner and I are in agreement that we don’t need to be buying a bunch of things on this trip. We’re moving across the country after this (Yes, we are essentially doing this trip twice in a row!), and we are tired of packing our worldly belongings! The memories and the pictures are all we need!

When we saw the little dream catcher, both my partner and I came to a sudden halt, both fixated on it at the exact same time. It was this little rainbow-colored dream catcher that was both a heart and a peace sign, and it really represents the essence of this trip quite perfectly. Our reaction upon seeing it must have been quite intense, because the woman manning the booth immediately jumped out of her chair! We both glanced at each other, nodded, and bought the dream catcher without further discussion. Come to find out, the woman’s eight-year-old son made it. It was the last of his that she had left, and the money is going to his field trip. We’re both utterly in love with it, so thank you to that little boy!

Dreamcatcher

After that, it was time to try some Navajo food at Grandma’s Frybread Shack. We both got Navajo tacos, and we shared a frybread with powdered sugar and honey. All of it was amazing! I highly recommend you try the food at Grandma’s if you ever find yourself at the Four Corners Monument.

Grandma

We left the Four Corners Monument, smiling at our little dream catcher, and I assumed that that was our unplanned adventure for the day.

Nope.

I’ve come to accept that we’ll have at least one unexpected thing happen to us each day. Our most amusing one of the day went something like this:

“Honey? Is that horse outside the fence?”

My partner sort of glanced to the side, focused instead on the road.

“I really think that horse is outside the fence …”

My partner finally glanced over and started to ask “What hor—” when I sat bolt upright in my seat and started shouting “HORSE!” as the palomino stepped into the freaking highway. I came up with a lot of expletives for that guy as he walked up the hill, rounded the guardrail, and started to step onto Highway 163 without a care in the world. I never in my entire life thought I’d almost run over a horse, but I guess there is a first time for everything.

Not too much longer after that, Monument Valley came into view. And out of view. And back into view. And out of view again.

The roads out here are really steep, and they go up and down a lot. We decided to venture into Monument Valley for just a bit before the sun set, and after we went down our first steep hill, we pulled over and stared up, wondering if we’d be able to go back up the hill. As a general rule, when we aren’t sure about something, we wait for another RV to do it. In this case, we watched a fifth wheel, two RVs, and a school bus race up that hill like it was nothing, so we decided we were overreacting. Better safe than sorry! (We promise we’re taking good care of the RV, North Atlanta RV Rentals!)

We ended up driving the entire twelve scenic miles of Monument Valley, pulling over at almost every paved turnout. I’m pretty sure everything got its picture taken at least once, and we have sunrise and sunset locations and ideas picked out for tomorrow! We ended up staying for sunset today, and it was gorgeous!

Me and the Monuments

After that, we left for our RV park, Goulding’s. Goulding’s is undoubtedly our favorite RV park so far!  Goulding’s also has a lodge, a gas station, a restaurant, a laundromat, and a grocery store! We thought we hit the jackpot with just those things, but as we drove back to where the RV park is and the red rocks swallowed us, we realized that it gets even better. Not only are you inside the rocks, with the high walls surrounding you on all sides, but you can see the monuments, too! We love this place!

Tomorrow, we get up early for more exploring, and we can’t wait!

Day #9 of the West Trip: The Bisti Badlands are the most unnatural natural place I have ever seen.

This morning was another morning of getting up insanely early, shoving breakfast and caffeine into our mouths, and getting everything unhooked at an hour that probably bothered our neighbors. Sorry, neighbors! It was made even worse by the fact that our night was less than ideal. We did not, in fact, get all of my partner’s images downloaded on Dropbox. Not even close. We stayed until Starbucks closed, and then there was the issue of getting a Lyft back to the RV park. The girl who took us to Starbucks said there were a ton of Lyft drivers on the roads last night because it was the night before St. Patrick’s Day, and they were all out because everyone at the bars wanted rides.

This was true. There were a ton of Lyft drivers in Santa Fe.

The problem was that they wanted to be near the bars, not across town picking up two girls who wanted to be taken to the middle of nowhere.

We started to panic after Lyft drivers ignored our request for a good fifteen minutes, but finally, we watched our app as one guy drove clear across Santa Fe to come get us. At that point, we were standing outside a closed Starbucks in the freezing cold in Santa Fe, with absolutely no one we knew in the state who could come help us (Lyft, including an emergency function in your app would be great!). This guy was our savior, and we learned a valuable lesson: do not venture into cities you do not know without a certain way to get back home!

Thankfully, the ride from Santa Fe to the Bisti Badlands was rather uneventful … except for one thing: the Badlands don’t have an address. And no, our GPS did not know it existed. Neither did our phones. We got there because I looked at a website that described it as forty-five miles north of one obscure city, then onto a dirt road that had only a number, not a name, and then more vague instructions. It really was a miracle that we found it!

After we turned onto the road that led toward the city that probably no one has ever heard of, we realized that NO ONE must go that way because it was the worst road I have ever driven on. That’s saying something, since all of New Mexico consists of the worst roads I have ever driven on. They make Atlanta roads look positively pristine! The New Mexican government is investing huge sums of money into fixing the roads, but it will be a long time before this particular one is considered drivable, I think. My poor brain rattled around in my skull for hours!

When we finally turned down the unnamed dirt road, celebrating that we had actually found the Badlands, something miraculous happened. My beloved horse, Patrick, who had been my best friend since I was ten years old, died before I finished graduate school. It was a bitterly painful experience for me for so many different reasons, and I miss him every day. His birthday was St. Patrick’s Day.

I nearly jumped out of the driver’s seat when I saw something moving in the road.

“What’s that?” I asked my partner. She didn’t see anything.

I saw another shape move across the road.

“I seriously see something in the road.” I told her.

Imagine my surprise when, not one horse, but an entire herd of wild horses materialized into view.

It was so beautiful and unexpected – and on Patrick’s birthday, no less—that I almost started crying. We slowly drove up to them and stopped. They just stood there, grazing. There were a few foals who eyed us skeptically, but none of them cared about us as we rolled down the windows and took pictures, our jaws nearly on the floor and our eyes wide.

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The horses paid us absolutely no attention! 

If it weren’t for the truck that came up behind us, I probably would have stayed there all day and watched them.

When we finally parked at the Badlands, my eyes just about bugged out of my head again. Admittedly, my partner wasn’t as thrilled about the Badlands as I was. For me, the Badlands immediately got into my blood. I don’t know if it was the writer in me or if the sheer wildness of the Badlands brought me back to when I was a little barefoot kid who liked to climb trees and get lost in the woods, but my partner had to keep pulling me back into the RV because I kept forgetting things as I darted out of it and toward the wild.

The badlands are maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, but aside from that, they are totally untamed. There are no trails and no signs. Once you step into the Badlands, you are on your own. There are no Park Rangers to save you there, and there is absolutely no cell signal. None. Following our experience at White Sands, we were very respectful of this fact, and we made firm rules regarding taking pictures of landmarks and consistently looking back to make sure we remembered where we were going.

Badlands 1

What I really wanted to see out there was what some people refer to as the “Alien Egg Farm.” I’m pleased to say that we did find it. It took two miles of walking (at least, since we didn’t follow a straight path) and the help of another hiker, but we stumbled upon it by the middle of the afternoon.

Badlands 3

The walk out there was like nothing I have ever experienced before. If you write science fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction, you absolutely must see the Badlands in person one day. My pictures absolutely do not do it justice, especially since I took most of them as an afterthought as I was climbing all over things. I don’t know how yet, but I know the Badlands will be getting written into one of my books in the future. We’ve already been to some strange places, and I saw pictures of the Badlands online, but nothing prepared me for its unusual, sometimes alien and creepy, and downright strange beauty. Colors range from deep black to vibrant red, and the stone hoodoos erupt out of the ground like fields of mushrooms. The hills out there are also diverse. Some are stone, and some are this strange gray dirt that has crinkled under the sun and sometimes collapses under your feet when you step on it. That last part is particularly terrifying if you’ve climbed very high up a hill, and the fall down onto the stone hoodoos would be less than pleasant.

Badlands 2

After we found the egg farm, we were exhausted. I managed to run off and explore a little farther than my partner, but not even my excitement could push me beyond that. Today was not the day for demanding hikes, and though it was cool outside, the sun in a place with no trees is downright brutal. We dragged ourselves back to the RV around 4:30 p.m. and resolved that we were done for the day.

Alien Egg Farm
The “Alien Egg Farm” of the Bisti Badlands. 

Or so we thought.

My partner likes to compare pictures at the end of our hikes, and after I swiped to one particular picture, she grabbed my phone and asked “Where did you take this?”

I had crawled on top one of the higher hills, and I explained to her that I didn’t mention the view because it was particularly steep and difficult. I didn’t think we could do it with the camera gear. By the look in her eyes, I could tell we were going to try.

Sunset badlands 2

We waited until sunset, and then we went back out. We never did find the same spot where I took my picture, but we did get some other amazing pictures. In the end, it was well worth it to haul our stuff back out there.

Sunset Badlands

Of course, the Badlands had a few tricks up its sleeves as we were leaving. The Badlands do not consist of flat terrain. Not at all. As I was leading us back to the RV, we had to cross a dry river. It looked dry and firm, so I stepped into it.

Guess who immediately started sinking?

My partner ripped me out of the river, which started bubbling with water where my foot had been, and we decided that we’d find a different way.

The last trick came when I took my bag off. We had been setting the bags down all day, and I didn’t think anything of it until my bag brushed my leg and I felt the cactus spike dig into it. I didn’t even realize there were cacti out there. I never saw one.

Oops.

Yes, it hurt when I pulled it out.

We left the Badlands feeling utterly exhausted, though my brain was starting to buzz with new book ideas, and here’s where we had another learning experience. At least, I did. A consistent theme of my last few posts has been that the RV parks are far away. The Bisti Badlands are on Navajo land, so this was again the case. When I had researched the Badlands, everything said that Bloomfield was the closest city we could stay in.

As we passed Farmington in the dark, frustrated that we were breaking our rule about driving at night, we realized I was very mistaken. Bloomfield was another half-hour drive in the dark and on very bumpy New Mexican roads. Did I mention all of the construction zones? There were a ton of construction zones!

When we turned into Moore’s RV Park in the dark, we were insanely grateful. Now, it’s time for bed, and we have to be up early again to make it to Monument Valley. Wish us luck! We need a nap!

Moores
Thank you to Moore’s RV Park in Bloomfield for a lovely stay! 

Day #8 of the West Trip: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is mesmerizing!

We woke up at 6:30 a.m. I had the ungratifying responsibility of emptying our black water tank this morning, since I had no desire to do it in the dark last night. Unfortunately, Boot Hill’s quiet hours don’t end until 7:00 a.m., so we busied ourselves with breakfast until I was able to make noise outside. Once 7:00 a.m. rolled around, things went smoothly – I filled the clean water tank and emptied both the gray and black water tanks—until it was time to disconnect the sewer line. There’s this little piece that screws onto the RV park’s sewer connection to connect our hose, and I could not get it off. We started to panic after about ten minutes. We put butter on this thing. We poured hot water on it. The dang thing would not come loose!

Finally, our neighbor – a very nice man named Bill, come to find out—saw us struggling.

“Is there a trick to this that I’m missing?” I asked, hoping that he’d get curious and want to help. Like I said, Bill was nice, so he immediately grinned at the two city girls in distress and said “I’ve got just the tool for that!” as he rummaged around in his pickup truck. This guy was a pro RVer.

He wandered over with a wrench of some kind, grabbed our little plastic piece, and pulled hard …

And it didn’t budge.

After two or three minutes, he stood up and stared at me like he was looking at the newest member of the Avengers.

“I’ve never had this happen,” he said, staring at me and wondering where the heck I was hiding the muscles that somehow managed to fuse our little plastic piece to the RV park’s sewer line.

In the end, we had to leave our little plastic piece behind, but Bill, our knight with a shiny white pickup truck, gave us one of his. Thank goodness. We did NOT have time for unplanned stops today.

We left just past 8:00 a.m., almost an hour later than I had planned. It stressed me out a bit, since we had to drive nearly four hours to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, and it was our only day there.

But the drive! Oh, my goodness! New Mexico is beautiful! I keep thinking I’ve seen the most beautiful mountain ranges I’ve ever seen, and then we keep driving. I was exhausted waking up this morning after our complete butt-kicking by White Sands yesterday, but I listened to my audiobook and watched the mountains rise before us, and I was so excited that I forgot that I needed about two more hours sleep to be considered human again. Unlike the Texas mountains, which we zigzagged through, New Mexico’s roads go up and down over and over again (We’ve climbed 4,000 feet since we left Atlanta!). My ears kept popping all day, but the RV does better with steep inclines than sharp curves, so the drive was more relaxing than when we left Big Bend.

We got to Tent Rocks around 1:00 p.m. after a beautiful drive through the Pueblo de Cochiti Reservation. Like our drive to Big Bend, the closer we got to the park, the more it felt like humanity had been erased from existence. In some ways, the area around the Tent Rocks felt more remote than getting to Big Bend, and that’s saying something! We got to drive over the Rio Grande, which thrilled me half to death, since we never actually got to see it in Big Bend. When we reached the monument’s entrance, I grew nervous that I had planned this particular stop way too poorly. Unlike the other parks, Tent Rocks closes at 4:00 p.m. We only had three hours to explore, and that made my skin crawl with irritation.

Kasha Entrance

Turns out, we really only needed two, though we took the extra hour because we were taking photos. Tent Rocks is actually a very small park. It had one loop that was fully accessible to us, and it was a little over a mile. We could only go a few hundred feet on the second trail. Turns out, when the government shut down, there was no one to maintain the trails. Well, fifteen feet of snow fell into this canyon trail during that time, making it dangerous and impassible. Two months later, and people still can’t get back there!

Me at Kasha

The trails themselves were gorgeous. The first trail we went on was a perfect loop, and we got views of the tent rocks from all sides, as well as a cave that was hand dug into the side of the mountain by humans nearly 1,000 years ago. The mind-blowing thing is that you can still see the marks from the fires they lit on the ceiling!

Kasha Cave

Besides the lovely Tent Rocks, the trail did offer a few extra surprises. My grandmother has a wild spirit and used to frequent the West. Before we left for this trip, she told us she was glad we weren’t going to New Mexico in the summer, since the state is crawling with rattlesnakes then. As soon as we stepped on the trail, I saw the sign warning about snakes, urging us not to step off the marked path. This put me a little on edge, but it was in the low 50’s, so I didn’t expect to see a snake. I was right. No snakes. What I did not expect was the bees. My partner is deathly allergic to bees. We have to carry an EpiPen on our walks, just in case.

Guess who the bees just loved?

I know enough from living in Florida as a child that you don’t swat bees. It just makes them mad, and mad bees sting.

So I kept it myself that my partner had bees sitting on her back while she was snapping photos.

Am I a bad partner? Maybe. Did we have to use the EpiPen? No.

Kasha peaks

 

Kasha start.jpg

 

We almost didn’t go on the second trail, since it was closed after a few hundred feet, but I’m so glad that we did! The second trail included a canyon, which sometimes becomes a river when it rains. There were rocks along the trail that hadn’t been there last week because of a flash flood, the ranger at the end of the trail told us. The partially open trail had beautiful, swooping high walls that occasionally boast a tent rock or two. We only got to walk a little bit of it, but the parts we got to explore were incredibly fun. The trail has the word “Canyon” in the name for a reason. We got to crawl through two canyons on our way back, which is an interesting experience with photography equipment on your back. The trail gets so narrow at some points that we only got through by putting one foot on the trail, one foot on a wall, bracing ourselves against another wall, and basically shimmying through. There is also this gorgeous pine tree the seems to stand on its tiptoes, standing high off the ground by a set of gnarled roots. Turns out, her name is Eleanor. A very chatty, personable park ranger told as this as he walked beside us, also mumbling about how the tourists need to stay on the trails and stop climbing on things.

Canyon peaks

 

Eleanor.jpg
We loved Eleanor! 

Have I mentioned how much we love park rangers?

We absolutely want to go back to explore that trail when it is fully open, and if you ever get a chance to visit Tent Rocks, don’t miss it! It’s so beautiful!

Peaks with light

We left promptly at 4:00 p.m. as the park rangers were chasing people out. From there, it was a beautiful drive through the Pueblo de Cochiti Reservation lands toward Santa Fe, and we arrived at Piñon RV Park just before 5:00 p.m. Because of how far the reservation lands stretch, there really isn’t anything closer.

We settled in and had dinner. And by that, I mean we were so tired and hungry that I made dinner twice. After dinner, I started to settle back and relax. We had survived the sewer line drama this morning, made it to Tent Rocks, and had managed to see every part of the park that was accessible to us!

But that’s when the next drama of the day started. Turns out, RV park Wi-Fi is really, really bad. As a professional photographer, my partner has taken A LOT of photos and videos, and all of those photos and videos need to be backed up. Well, with the RV park Wi-Fi, it would take thirteen days to download them to Dropbox. Thirteen days does not work for us. So, what did we do? We piled into a Lyft with our computers (As my partner muttered “You do realize this is how we get murdered, right?”, and a very sweet girl, who also happens to be moving to San Diego, drove us to Starbucks. So, as I type this, I’m seeing civilization for the first time in over a week, munching on a sugar cookie, and my partner’s images should be done downloading in two hours.

This concludes stop #3 at Tent Rocks. Tomorrow is stop #4 at the Bisti Badlands in the De-Na-Zin Wilderness!

Day #7 of the West Trip: Not all who wander are lost … but we were.

A writer and a photographer walk into a desert …

… And get very, very lost.

But I’ll get to that.

We had planned on getting up at 6:00 a.m. to photograph the sunrise at White Sands. Thankfully, I had the good sense to see what the military might be up to last night. Come to find out, the White Sands Missile Range was conducting missile tests from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., so no sunrise pictures for us!

We were disappointed, but at the same time, after rushing across the country to Texas, exploring Big Bend (and surviving wind storms!), and then immediately driving north to White Sands, we needed a break! We slept in, and I made pancakes. It was our first breakfast that we weren’t heating up as fast as we could and then wolfing it down in the passenger seat, so it was quite enjoyable. Beyond that, our laundry has been piling up, and we decided it would be best if we were responsible adults and took care of that before it gets out of control. In order to do laundry, though, we had to dig out the quarters we had saved, which are hidden somewhere in the storage space under the RV. As I type this, I still don’t know where the dang quarters are. We wasted a good hour looking for them, and ultimately, laundry did not get done. At 10:30 a.m., we decided to give up and go to White Sands. Chores can wait when you’re on vacation, I suppose.

We decided that today was the day we would find an area of White Sands that had the iconic look we came for – devoid of desert plants and human footprints. We also decided today was the day we went sledding! We watched kids sled down the sand dunes all day yesterday with envy, so we decided today is our day for fun! We got to White Sands around lunch time and were immediately greeted with the vibrant glow from the sands that makes your retinas shriek in horror. Seriously, bring at least a hat for this place, because the white sands pretty much glow in the sunlight. It’s unreal! We tracked down our sleds (a bright orange and a lime green one because the blinding white isn’t enough for our damaged eyeballs), immediately went to the back of the park, where the sands are the highest and vegetation is sparser, kicked on the generator, and had lunch while we watched a brother and sister sledding down the sand dunes.

Then, it was our turn, and oh my goodness, climbing sand is brutal! We had so much fun sledding down the dunes, but my leg muscles were sobbing by the time I sledded down for the dozenth time. Thank goodness I had been going to the gym for months before this trip or I probably wouldn’t have made it up the hill once. Pro tip: do not carry the sled up the hill. Toss that sucker as high as you can and be done with it! When we finally went back to the RV, covered in sand with half of White Sands in our hiking boots, lunch was completely burned off, and we were chugging water as we collapsed on the couch. I’m so glad we were in a RV, because White Sands has no running water or any other necessities save for in the gift shop, and I think we would have had to leave for supplies at that point if we had just been in a car.

Sledding
The one-minute, agonizing climb is worth the fun!

After we caught our breath, it was time to go out for our iconic pictures. We weren’t thrilled with the area we picked yesterday for sunset pictures, so we walked in the opposite direction today, toward the beautiful snow-covered peak in the distance, which is part of the Sacramento Mountains (I think?). It took quite a bit of walking, but finally, we found the most gorgeous spot with high sand dunes devoid of plants surrounding us, and those stunning ripples the wind creates in the sand were everywhere. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the clouds were thick and fluffy.

Pristine White SandsPretty White Sands

I admit that I hadn’t been that thrilled with White Sands until we found that spot. The sand resembles the beaches in Panama City Beach, Florida, which I frequented almost every summer for a few years when my grandparents lived there. Up until that point, White Sands looked like Panama City Beach without the ocean and drunk Spring Breakers.

We spent three or four hours out there exploring and snapping photos. Amusingly, we attracted the attention of a pair of crows, who followed us around for quite a while.

Maybe they realized we had gotten our sorry hides lost, and they were just waiting for the outcome.

I will give myself credit. I did a great job of remembering which direction we needed to go. Here is where I made a mistake, though. White Sands ends in a loop. I parked on the right side of the loop right before it turns, where a bunch of people were sledding. I could always see people from where we were so long as I climbed up the dunes, so I never felt nervous. We found the main road no problem, but the mistake we made was walking over the top of the loop and finding the left side of the loop. Tons of people were sledding, and everything looks the same in White Sands, so we didn’t realize something was wrong until it occurred to us that we didn’t remember walking that far from the RV to start.

After we had walked for half an hour, climbing on top of the dunes to try to catch a glimpse of the RV, we started to get really nervous. I managed to find a camel (Yes, someone brought their camel), but no twenty-six foot RV, if you can believe it. Thankfully, just as we started to wonder what on earth we were going to do, the park rangers came around the corner. We approached them, tails between our legs, feeling like dumb city girls from Atlanta, and asked them if they had seen an RV around.

White Sands Hills

The park rangers were extremely nice. They told us to stay put (I think they visualized us getting even more lost and dropping dead somewhere in the park), and they took off to go look for it. We sat, and we proceeded to feel more and more embarrassed the longer they were gone. When they finally came back, they claimed it was “Just around the corner,” but they said they would give us a ride. We had mentioned we were from the city, and I think they completely gave up on us at that. However, the park rangers and I do not have the same definition of “around the corner.” We must have missed the RV by a good half a mile. I am proud of us for at least finding the road, since we were probably at least a mile or two into White Sands before we turned back, but it did not escape either of us how turned around we had gotten and how much trouble we would be in if help had not come. It was a huge learning experience for both of us, and we will not be making that mistake again!

We made dinner after the park rangers dropped us off. We were exhausted after hours of hiking, but we still wanted to get sunset pictures, despite our trauma. We ended up laying on the couch until 6:30 p.m. and then set back out with the rule that we did not go so far that we could not see the RV. It was a good rule, because as we got to a spot we liked and set up, a wind storm kicked up. We were lucky that we learned from yesterday’s sunset experience and brought the coats we had picked out for Yellowstone. The wind was so intense that we had to anchor the tripod with our backpacks. The sunset was stunning, but what really captivated me was that, in the half an hour that we stood there taking pictures, the wind obliterated our footprints. By the time we walked back, you couldn’t tell that people had been walking out there all day.

Hiking White Sands

I left our last day in White Sands with a healthy respect for the desert. When I first looked at it, I saw beach sand sitting in stagnant, white hills. When I left, I saw White Sands as a beautifully violent place. Halfway through the day, I felt a sense of bitterness that there were all of these people stomping all over it, leaving footprints and ruining the pristine, white dunes. When I left, my human arrogance was thoroughly in check, and I realized that the desert doesn’t even notice we are there. Whatever we do to it, it can erase our marks in the blink of an eye.

White Sands Sunset

We make our way to Kasha-Katuew Tent Rocks National Monument tomorrow, and I am sad to see us leaving White Sands behind. I highly recommend this dynamic place, but by no means should you underestimate it!