Road Trip to White Sands and Ruidoso, New Mexico (Part 1 of 2)

In search of a change in scenery and relief from the summer heat, my wife and I and our son and his girlfriend recently decided to take a road trip from El Paso to spend a few days up in the cool pines of Ruidoso, New Mexico. Before heading straight to Ruidoso, however, we chose to take a little detour to spend a few hours taking in the beautiful desert scenery at White Sands National Monument.

Although we didn’t time our trip to be at White Sands during the sunrise or sunset hours, which are the ideal times to capture photos with shadows on the dunes, the combination of mountains, blue skies and beautiful white gypsum sand still provided us with some nice images even under the mid-day sun.

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Stretching out over 275 square miles, White Sands is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. The gypsum sand is the product of erosion following rains that wash minerals down from the surrounding mountains into the Tularosa Basin where the gypsum dries and hardens into crystals. The crystals are then broken down by wind erosion to form fine grains of white sand. The resulting sand dunes are so white that they are sometimes mistaken for snow when seen in photographs.

Interestingly, when one digs down into the sand just a few inches, one discovers that the sand is actually cool and moist. That moisture helps to loosely bind the sand together to help the dunes retain their shape. Nevertheless, the dunes are slowly but constantly shifting and the few desert plants found there have adapted to grow quickly to keep from getting swallowed up by the shifting sands.

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After spending a couple of hours exploring the dunes, we then drove on to nearby Alamogordo, New Mexico, where we made a brief stop at Heart of the Desert pistachio farm to pick up a bag of fresh pistachios. There are several pistachio farms in the area to choose from, but that’s the one we like to visit. From there, the most direct route to Ruidoso is to head north towards Tularosa, but we chose instead to backtrack just a bit to take the scenic Highway 82 east towards Cloudcroft.

Just a few miles east of Alamogordo, there’s a scenic pull-off in the Fresnal Canyon, just before reaching a short tunnel through the mountains. We stopped at the pull-off, where I captured the image below which shows White Sands way off in the distance.

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As we continued east on Highway 82, climbing higher and higher up the mountains, the landscape gradually changed from arid desert to green forest. Shortly before reaching the small town of Cloudcroft, we made two more little detours. The first was a stop at The Old Apple Barn, where they sell fresh baked goods and an assortment of souvenirs.  While there, I took the opportunity to capture a few whimsical images.

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The next stop was at the Mexican Canyon Trestle, where the remnants of an old train trestle still stand today as a reminder of the timber industry that used to thrive up there in the mountains.

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Following this last stop, we then continued on our way through Cloudcroft and on to Ruidoso where our rental cabin awaited us.

Stay tuned for the second part of this blog where I will describe in words and photos the remainder of our trip to Ruidoso.

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