Tag Archives: National Park

Crater Lake

Wow, this place is unbelievable. First, we had to climb a long way UP to get here. Crater Lake is at about 7000 feet. Second, the SNOW! It’s June and they’re still using snow plows and hand shoveling to clear roads and dig out cabins. They had about 45 feet of snow this year and in some places it drifted to about 70 feet. The huge volume of snow still laying around is amazing.

Third, the mosquitoes! It’s so strange that there’s snow everywhere, and the mosquitoes are thick and thirsty. I opened the car door and five flew in!  luckily they’re big, easy to see, and you can slap them away before to much damage is done.

We stayed in the National Park Lodge for Crater Lake last night. It’s been in operation for 101 years, so it was a bit rustic. The food was good, and we even needed reservations! It was also a bit creepy and I later learned that parts of it were used to film The Shining. That explained it.

I have to say, there isn’t much to do at Crater Lake in early June. They haven’t finished clearing the snow from the road around the lake and boats won’t be on the lake until at least June 24th. All we could really do was go to the one overlook that was open. They also had a short video about the lake at the Visitor’s Center.

It’s kind of a cool story. There used to be a 12,000 foot mountain with a pool of magma deep beneath it. Eventually, the pressures on the magma pool were too great and several vents to the surface opened. They circled the mountain and caused cracks that went from vent to vent. Eventually, the magma pool emptied, but that meant the underpinnings of the mountain were compromised. Over the course of a couple hours, the entire mountain fell deep into the earth and filled the magma chamber.

Over centuries, rain and the run-off from the snow melt eventually filled the hole with water. The lake as no streams or rivers that feed it, so the water is crystal clear. From 1880 to about the 1940s, the lake was stocked with fish, so there are still fish in the lake today.

Here are a few pictures.

IMG_4292

The lake is known for its amazing blue color and its crystal clear water. It’s not unusual to be able to see more than 100 feet down.

IMG_4290

When the mountain collapsed, it left sheer cliff walls. There is only one place to access the water level without scaling a 1000 foot cliff.

IMG_4283

These guys were literally digging this cabin out by hand.

IMG_4279

Another view of the lake from the back of the Lodge.

IMG_4270

This is the Lodge.

IMG_4269

Hey, there! It’s just me … and lots of snow!  I haven’t seen snow like this since we lived in South Dakota.

IMG_4267

I forgot to mention that we drove past Mt. Shasta yesterday on the way to Crater Lake.

Smoky Mountains Photos

IMG_1673

Everything was getting green. I really hate my new camera because it doesn’t capture how deeply green the green plants are.

IMG_1676

IMG_1681

Here’s where the stream is diverted into a flume.

IMG_1683

Here’s the flume leading to the mill. This is a grist mill. Grits were, and still are, a staple food in these parts.

IMG_1690

IMG_1695

IMG_1702

IMG_1704

I think the blooming trees are dogwoods, but not completely sure.

IMG_1705

IMG_1706

Yes, our Bob was here, but he was a good boy, unlike the previous Bob.

IMG_1710

Here was are in the Smokies!

IMG_1716

A view of Gatlinberg, Tennessee, from our hotel room. You can see a little of the water vapor hanging in the air that gives the Smokies their name.

IMG_1796

A little chocolate monkey topped with really big guns? Sure, I’ll have one of those. ???

IMG_1723

We saw turkeys everywhere. There were three in this group and they were very vocal. Here you can see two of the three.

IMG_1731

IMG_1744

Lots of beautiful streams are everywhere.

IMG_1746

IMG_1750

So much potential! I wish I could go back in a month when the other trees have leaves.

IMG_1755

Here we are in a higher elevation becuase Spring has barely started.

IMG_1767

Did I mention I hate my camera? This area was vividly green, so green it almost hurt. It was really beautiful.

IMG_1770

Here’s a little more of the green, but it was eye-popping.

IMG_1776

IMG_1769

10 people lived in this little house. Part was built in the 1890s and the second part was built in the 1930s.

IMG_1777

Here’s Bob : )

IMG_1782

This is the steam behind the cabin.

IMG_1788

IMG_1792

Here’s a little more of the green.

IMG_1805

I’d love to come back to the Smoky Mountains. I see the appeal of this place. The beauty here really grows on you. However, this national park is the most visited in the country—even more than Yellowstone. Even this early in the year, it was pretty crowded and traffic was slow.

IMG_1800

IMG_1811

So pretty.

IMG_1829

The park was established with the help of the Rockefellers. Here’s a memorial honoring that fact. We also have the Rockefellers to thank for the fact there is no entrance fee into the Smoky Mountain NP, it was a stipulation of their donation.

IMG_1831

The Appalacian Trail! I’ve always been curious about this trail. I have to say, it was pretty treacherous.

IMG_1832

The first little bit from the parking lot had a guard rail, but it didn’t go far and the drop off was pretty steep.

IMG_1834

IMG_1836

And the footing was anything but sure. You had to really watch it. Also, the dirt was pretty wet and everything was slippery.

IMG_1838

Here’s Bob on the Appalachian Trail! He was a good sport because this was on my bucket list and he was humoring me. Otherwise, he probably would have skipped it. Especially since the part we were on was steeply uphill. : )

IMG_1842

IMG_1845

IMG_1846

IMG_1848

Here we are at the Appalachian Trail. Here, the trail follows the NC/TN border.

IMG_1851

See?

IMG_1864

Next up was Clingmans Dome and here we learned the meaning of steep incline. It was brutal!

IMG_1875

But the top had this nifty tower.

IMG_1878

On the ramp to the top of the tower.

IMG_1881

The view from the top of the tower.

IMG_1894

The Appalachian Trail passes by Clingmans Dome, too. Did I mention there were lots of really serious hikers around? They were intense.

IMG_1895

A close up of a bend in the Appalachian Trail. I’m telling you, it can be treacherous! Most of those serious hikers I told you about had two things in common: two walking poles and a folded egg crate to cushion the ground when they slept.

IMG_1898

Another view from Clingmans Dome.

IMG_1921

Smoky Mountains

4,800 miles so far!


The last couple of days have been lots of driving and hiking.  We’ve gone from one end of the Smoky Mountains to the other.  On Saturday, it was cold, blustery and raining.  What a difference a day makes!  Easter Sunday dawned bright and clear and the park just came alive.  You can see my pictures here.


It’s still on the early side of Spring here.  Some of the trees are blooming, but most don’t have leaves yet, especially in the higher elevations.  However, with sunshine, the park really is beautiful.  Its beauty grows on you and I can see why so many people come back or even move to this area.  It has great appeal.


I even like Gatlingerg, Tennessee, where we spent Saturday night.  The guide book describes it as Heidi meets Hillbilly:  vaguely Bavarian meets hick mountains.  It was cool, with great energy.  I have a picture or two in the photos.


Easter Mass wasn’t so easy in Gatlinberg, however.  We located the Catholic church near our hotel and drove by on Saturday night.  The Mass times were posted and nothing indicated they changed for Easter.  Bob checked the church’s website: same thing.  We even checked with the front desk of the hotel and that guy also confirmed the Mass times.  But when we got there nice and early, we found a brand new sign announcing Mass started an hour earlier.  People were streaming in from all directions on foot because there were several hotels in the areal.  All of them, along with us, were shocked to find Mass was moved back an hour.  It seems when we travel over Easter, Mass always gets screwed up.


Today I crossed an item off my bucket list.  I walked on the Appalachian Trail.  I have to say, it’s pretty rough; like you could easily break your neck rough.  We walked about a quarter mile along the trail which follows the NC/TN state line in this area.  See the pictures, because its rough.


We also climbed to the top of Clingmans Dome, one of the tallest mountains in the park.  There was a nicely paved road to follow, but the incline was insane.  Thank goodness the views were all worth it.  I saved you the climb and put the pictures in the photo gallery.  : )  I know I’m going to be sore tomorrow.


By late afternoon, we were ready to sit for awhile.  We did lots of hiking today.  So, we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the sights. I have some pictures here.  We only went about 85 miles, as far as Asheville, NC, and we ended up staying in the same hotel we were in on Friday night.


Tomorrow, we’re really looking forward to the Biltmore Estate.  I’ve always wanted to see it and I’d kick myself if I let the steep entrance fees stop us.  So, that’s the plan!

The Everglades

3600 miles traveled.


Today we explored a little bit of the Everglades.  We drove some of it, we walked lots of it, and we took a 15 mile tram tour.  What surprised me most is the fact that the Everglades is NOT a swamp.  It’s actually a 50 mile wide, slow-moving, shallow river.  It’s so shallow that grasses grow in it and it looks like a sea of grass.  The water is slowly moving down the peninsula at the rate of ¼ mile a day.  As a result, it is all fresh water, there is nothing stale or stagnant about it.  In fact, the water is so fresh, it is used for drinking water in many Florida cities.


Like most rivers, it has cycles.  In the winter (now), it’s the dry season so much of the water is dried up and the animals congregate around watering holes.  It reminded me a lot of what happens in African savannas.  In the wet season (summer) the entire place fills with water, usually 3-4 feet deep.  In the past, much of the water has been controlled with dams, culverts, irrigation ditches, things like that.  But in 2000, Congress passed a law to reverse much of the man-made intervention.  They hope to restore 85% of the Everglades to its natural state, including the seasonal flooding.


There is an incredible abundance of life here.  There are alligators, of course, but there are also snakes, billions of birds, many mammals (including panthers), tons of fish, and even crocodiles.  One species that’s only been around since the 1990s is the Burmese python.  From a hundred pet snakes released by people who could no longer care for them (they start out tiny and cute, but they grow alarmingly fast, up to 23 feet—EEEK!) there are now about 5000 Burmese pythons in the Everglades.  As a result, the deer population in the park has dropped by 94% and the panther population has dropped 90%.  The rangers hold yearly hunts for the pythons and they capture all the ones they come across, but the snakes reproduce so quickly, it’s an uphill battle.


My favorite spot is where Exxon drilled for oil way back when (I can’t remember when, the 1930s? 40s?) Anyway, they found oil, but it was contaminated with sulphur and not usable.  So, Exxon (then Humble Oil Company) donated the land to the National Park Service. That’s how we got the Everglades National Park.  The oil rig was converted into a fire lookout and today its just an interesting tourist spot.  I have pictures of everything here.  As with the Dry Tortugas, most of the details of what we saw are in the captions of the photos.  Enjoy!

The Dry Tortugas

3365 miles traveled.


Today was a bucket list day for me.  I’ve always wanted to see Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, and today was the day.  It’s really an amazing place.  To get there, we had to take a boat about 70 miles due west of Key West.  There sits Fort Jefferson. It looks like it is just rising out of the ocean. It is the largest structure built from brick anywhere in the world.  It took 16 million bricks and it was never completed.


Fort Jefferson is a five-sided, two story structure that was made to hold over 400 guns (cannon sized) and 2,000 men.  It was one of the first major undertakings of the Army Corp of Engineers and certainly the first project they built at sea. Construction began in 1846 and went on for 30 years, until the fort was abandoned in 1874.


The fort is built on a 10-acre sand bar in the middle of nowhere.  Why?  Why would they build something so enormous and labor-intensive in the middle of nowhere?  After all, everything needed to be shipped in.  All the building materials, all the food, even the drinking water, had to be shipped.  At the time, that meant wooden sailing vessels.  So, why?


It all began right after the Louisiana Purchase which doubled the size of the US in one fell swoop.  It also gave us the very valuable port of New Orleans and use of the entire Mississippi River as a means of moving goods.  That was worth protecting.  The location of the fort allowed the US to control access to the Gulf of Mexico, thus protecting our trade routes.  Also, the island is the only safe harbor for 70 miles.  It has a natural deep water channel that’s perfect for anchoring a boat and that channel is surrounded by shallower areas.  In a storm, a boat anchored in the harbor is protected from most of the pounding waves by the surrounding shallow areas.  Even today, when a hurricane approaches, the channel fills with all kinds of boats from all over the Gulf because of this protection.  In the 1800’s the fort could deny anchorage to an enemy vessel and leave it to the mercy of an approaching storm.


While the fort could, in theory, train 125 guns on any target, no matter the angle of approach, and it could fire a shot 3 miles, it never saw a battle.  The closest it came to was in 1861 when Florida seceded from the union.  One fishing boat sailed up and demanded the fort (which was a Union post) surrender.  The commander allowed the ship to sail away unharmed to spread the word that the fort was under Union control.  It was all a bluff because most of the guns hadn’t been delivered yet and the fort was nearly harmless.


The fort is most famous as the prison of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a convicted co-conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination.  He’s the guy they’re referring to whenever someone says “his name is Mudd.”  Anyway, he was imprisoned at the fort for 4 years when a yellow fever epidemic hit and killed every single member of the medical staff.  Dr. Mudd volunteered to help and he did such careful research and kept such detailed notes that later analysis helped the docs in Washington figure out better treatments, and ultimately the cause, of yellow fever.  Dr. Mudd’s services were so valuable, the soldiers at the fort petitioned President Johnson to pardon him and it was eventually granted.


Take a look at the photos here.  There’s so much to tell you about the fort, especially its construction, that I put most of the details in the captions on the photos.  It’s really a cool place.

Dry Tortugas Photos

IMG_0804

IMG_0961

As you approach the Fort from the sea, it looks like it floats on the ocean.

IMG_0951

Around the back are all the docks.

IMG_0818

The light house is about 3 miles from Fort Jefferson. That’s how far the guns at the fort could shoot with enough force to sink a ship.

IMG_0820

The sand is white and fine, the water a beautiful blue.

IMG_0823

Here’s the beach at the fort. The corner of the fort has bastions where guns could shoot along the walls and repel anyone trying to scale them.

IMG_0826

Yes, it has a moat. Here’s what it looks like on the land side, later you’ll see the ocean side and how the moat walls act like sea walls.

IMG_0831

Inside the entrance to the fort.

IMG_0832

A look down the inside of one of the walls.

IMG_0834

Here’s the lighthouse that still works to mark the safe harbor for any boat that needs it.

IMG_0835

A view across the inside of the fort from ground level. It’s pretty big!

IMG_0836

IMG_0837

Another look across the parade ground.

IMG_0838

The round structure was the magazine, but it was never used. The long ruin that runs in front of the magazine was the soldiers’ barracks. It was a 3 story structure and miserably hot. The men bunked in the second floor rooms in the walls where it was much cooler.

IMG_0840

Another view down the inside of the fort’s walls. This was taken on the second floor.

IMG_0842

ditto

IMG_0843

Another view, this one taken from the second story of the fort. Here you can see the ruins of the soldiers’ barracks. It was a huge, long structrue.

IMG_0844

IMG_0853

More views of the magazine.

IMG_0845

Here’s the moat on the ocean side. The wall acts as a sea wall to protect the fort from large waves, etc.

IMG_0847

This was taken when we were on top of the walls. The tops were purposely covered with dirt and grass to absorb the shock of cannon fire. It is also part of the system designed to recover and store fresh water for the island.

IMG_0848

Another view from the top of the wall. You can see just how long the soldiers’ barracks were.

IMG_0854

In our litigious society, the fort really amazed me. There are no guard rails anywhere. You can walk right to the edge of any of those big windows in the wall and fall right off. In fact, you can walk along the top of the wall which is very uneven, and easily slip. Our tour guide said in the 10 years he’s been working at the Park, only 2 people have fallen off the wall and both landed unharmed in the moat.

IMG_0856

See what I mean about uneven footing on top of the walls?

IMG_0849

IMG_0850

The green spot at the end of that narrow strip of sand is Long Key and the spot of green further out is Bird Key. Normally, they are separate islands. In the last 10 years, the sand bars that currently connect them have washed away and built back up twice.

IMG_0858

Here’s Bob!

IMG_0859

Here’s the story of how the fort was built.

IMG_0860

Here’s some info on how they intended to collect and store fresh water. The water was supposed to filter through the dirt on top of the walls and funnel down through pipes inside the walls to underground storage tanks. However, the dirt they used on top of the wall was dredged from the channel, so when the water filtered through, it leached out all the salt in the soil and the water was undrinkable. Also, with settling, 106 of the 109 storage tanks sprung leaks and the water in them rose and fell with the tides. It was an engineering failure, but it was a nice try!

IMG_0861

More passport stamps. 🙂

IMG_0867

Here’s Bob in a gun port. Can you see the arc on the floor? That was a rail where the cannon’s back wheels sat. It allowed the men to swivel the cannon to aim it properly. You can see by the arcs that gun after gun after gun sat along these walls. There were supposed to be over 400 when the fort was finished—which it never was. It was abandoned in 1874.

IMG_0894

Remember the dredged fill on the roof? The salt has leached down is forming stalagmites and stalactites on the roof and floor of the second story. It is very hard, as hard as the cement.

IMG_0872

IMG_0898

Another view from the top of the wall. Here you can see the two different colors of the brick used to build the fort. At first, the brick came from a brickyard in Pensacola. But when the South seceded from the Union, the brick had to come from Maine. Can you imagine shipping it that far?

IMG_0900

Here’s one of the six guns that’s been restored at the fort. It sits on top of the wall.

IMG_0910

This is the boat we arrived on.

IMG_0912

Another view from the top of the wall. That entrance was the only way in or out of the fort. Originally, it had a drawbridge over the moat.

IMG_0916

Here’s what the stairways look like.

IMG_0918

The intrepid tourists! Risking life and limb to get some good photos for this blog!  (Not really, we would have climbed all over this place just for the fun if it.)

IMG_0920

Bob on the sea wall.

IMG_0925

The Moat is only a few feet deep. There was a joke among the prisoners that the moat had sharks in it, but it didn’t. However, as a joke, one of the soldiers did put a shark in the moat and it lived there about two weeks.

IMG_0921

Those little windows on the bottom were where the guns were. Here, they are covered by black shutters. Those are heavy iron and they are weighted to hang perfectly. When a cannon was fired, the air pressure in front of the cannonball pushed the shutters open and allowed the cannonball to pass. Then, they immediately swung closed. That meant the men inside were only exposed to enemy fire for the brief second it took for the cannonball to pass through. Very clever design. Oh, the indents above the big windows were made to look like gun ports, but they were decoys. To a ship at sea, it would look like there were three layers of cannon, but there were really only two.

IMG_0928 IMG_0930

Time has taken a toll on the fort. Here the restoration is still in progress.

IMG_0929

Another view of the moat and the beach. The fort was supposed to be 3 stories tall, but because it was so heavy and it was settling so badly, the Army Corp of Engineers decided to stop at two.

IMG_0946

Did I mention there were pelicans everywhere? They were fun to watch. They looked like a cat pouncing playfully on a mouse. They’d just suddenly hop and dive at a fish in the water. It looked kamikaze.

IMG_0953

The Catwalk

After a morning of cliff dwellings, we traveled to a very different part of the Gila National Forest. In Whitewater Canyon is a trail called the Catwalk. It’s a place where the river canyon narrows, sometimes to only 20 feet wide, and a catwalk about 1/4 mile long has been welded about half way up the canyon wall. Bob thought it was kind of ho hum, but I loved it. It was different, weird, and such an interesting kind of experience.


Spring is a perfect time to be out in nature and it was just beautiful.  Enjoy the pictures, it was really awesome.  By the way, the catwalk, and many of the stairs, bridges and other access points to the things we saw throughout our trip, were built by the CCC in the 1930’s.


After all the exercise, we decided we were entitled to some pie in Pie Town, NM.  We started to head in that direction, but after consulting Fodor’s, we discovered the pie places were already closed for the day and there wasn’t really any place to stay the night.  So, we diverted to Albuquerque for the night.

City of Rocks and Gila Cliff Dwellings

On our way to Gila National Forest, we passed by the City of Rocks State Park.  Thousands of years ago a volcano erutped and ash and soot fell in this area.  Over years that layer of rock has been eroded to make what look like a city of rocks.  The rocks are like buildings and there appears to be streets between them.  It was a fun place.  We also saw a huge cat slinking around between the stones that we believe was a largely overgrown pet of one of the RV’s staying in the ara, but we weren’t sure.  We had already seen a coyote and several deer run down the road along with our slowly moving car (on separate occasions).   We saw lots of great wildlife on this trip. You can see our pictures of the City of Rocks here.


After City of Rocks, we traveled on to Silver City, New Mexico, the jumping off point for Gila National Forest and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.  We were also near the Santa Rosa pit/strip mining operation which we stopped to see.  It was an unbelievably huge hole in the ground.  I’m glad they plan to fill it back in some day when the mining is done, but it’s gigantic now!  It is so big that it swallowed up the entire town of Santa Rosa. Pictures of the mine are here. 


The Cliff Dwellings are also very interesting.  They were the first we’ve seen.  To get there, you have to travel a narrow mountainous road that goes up over 7000 feet above sea level.  It is twisty, treacherous, full of switchbacks, hairpins, and lots of sharp twists.  It goes on for about 30 miles, but it takes more than an hour to travel.  It was very challenging and, luckily, we encountered very few cars on the road.  In fact, this entire trip was perfectly timed to avoid crowds but still take advantage of great weather.  We were really lucky.  We’ve decided that we will plan all our trips to National Parks in April or October.


Anyway, to reach the cliff dwellings, we had to hike about a mile over a great paved trail with lots of bridges over the stream that formed the canyon.  It was a beautiful walk, but a little strenuous.


The dwellings themselves were amazing.  They were well organized, well built, and took advantage of every natural resource available.  All alcoves in sandstone cliffs are formed by seep springs, so there is a water source right in the back of the cave.  The cliff dwellers also stored their food by placing it in rooms that were made of rock, plaster, and part of the cave.  Once the food was sealed in, insects and rodents couldn’t get to it.  They could store dried corn for several years if necessary.


Another interesting feature was the kiva.  It is where the Native Americans worshipped.  Basically, it is a large circular room that is sunk into the ground.  There is a roof over the kiva and the top is flush with the ground outside so you could walk over a kiva and not even know it was there.  The only entrance is through a hole in the roof that is directly over the fire pit.  It was accessed by a long ladder.  Kivas are found everywhere throughout Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  In addition, some of the cliff dwellings had 6 or 8 of them.


It’s clear the cliff dwellers were very resourceful and it was so interesting to walk in their footsteps, if only briefly.  By the way, in the past it was believed that the Native Americans, called Anasazi, who occupied the cliff dwellings, mysteriously disappeared.  We now know this is not the case.  Rather, the Anasazi are actually ancient Peublos who simply migrated on to other destinations as required by their faith, their religion.


I’ll probably mangle this, but, basically, as a people, the Indians believed they are required to live in many different areas that they are lead to by the spirits.  Over generations, they learn about each area, how to survive and grow crops in different locations.  That knowledge becomes part of their oral tradition and then they move on to the next challenge.  Once they have lived and learned all there is no know about each location, they have reached “center” and they are no longer required to migrate.  Of all the indian tribes today, only the Hopi Indians feel they have reached “center.” Maybe that’s why they’ve lived on their plateaus for literally thousands of years.

You can find all our pictures here.

Solar Observatory and White Sands National Monument

Sunday, April 15, 2012


We woke to a beautiful day, the winds had all died down.  However, I could barely walk because my muscles were so sore from our caving adventures.  I managed to hobble to the car and we headed up into the mountains to the National Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak.


It was pretty quiet on a Sunday morning but we did take the self guided tour.  It was interesting to see the equipment used to map the sunspots (the town all the scientists live in is Sunspot, NM, by the way), monitor solar winds and the sun’s corona, etc.  This location is one of only a handful worldwide that keeps track of solar weather.  It was built in the 1950’s. Some of the pictures I took are here.


We found a really fun local bar and grill for lunch. We figured it was good because it was so crowded we had to park about a block away along the edge of the highway.  I hobbled in.  They were playing twangy Christain music and everyone was dressed up, probably just coming from church.  I loved it.  The food was great, too.   One thing about food in New Mexico, EVERYTHING has chilis or peppers in some form.  Even for a simple hamburger or eggs, you have to request “no peppers” when you order.  I never get to eat food like that because Bob can’t eat peppers.  While he struggled a bit on this trip, I got to really enjoy food I normally wouldn’t.


Next, we headed to White Sands National Monument.  The picture above is of some picnic tables there.  It is an area of NM where the winds blow gypsum down from the mountains, which is pulverized on the way.  By the time it arrives at the bottom, it is as fine and white as talcum powder.  There is just enough moisture there to anchor the sand, so it doesn’t blow away.  Over about 10,000 years, quite a bit of the white sand has accumulated over about 250 miles.  It is so distinct from the surrounding areas that it is visible from space.  It blows around in huge dunes that move a couple inches a day in some places.


It was really strange to see great white dunes that looked like snow, but there were people sunbathing everywhere.  To make it more visually confusing, people were also sledding down the dunes.  In fact, the visitors center rents disc sleds for that purpose.  Also, instead of evergreens, the sand was punctuated here and there with cactus and yuccas.  It was amazing and lots of fun.  We didn’t do any sledding, but we did walk over the dunes.  The sand was hard packed enough that it was like walking on sand at the waterline of a beach.


If you’re ever in the Southwest, add White Sands to the list of things you must do. It’s a unique and interesting place. What’s more, it’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth making a detour to see.  Take your kids, you’ll all love it!  See all our pictures here.

Solar Observatory and White Sands Photos

National Solar Observatory

There wasn’t much going on during our visit, it was a Sunday morning, after all. But the buildings were impressive and they let us into a couple of them.  The cool part of this visit is saying that we were there.  Also, some of the views along the way were wonderful.  It was also freezing cold!

IMG_2656

One of the observatories.

IMG_2655

Another observatory.

IMG_2650

Bob at one of the overlooks along the road up the mountain. The Observatory is at the top. See White Sands in the distance?

IMG_2648

Another view of White Sands in the distance.

White Sands National Monument

What a fun place!  It was definitely one of my favorites.  If you ever have a chance, take your kids there.  It is worth a day of your time to expore this amazing natural wonder.  For those who love biology, the native species have evolved to live on the white sand in record time, less than 10,000 years.  Its quite the wonder.

IMG_2658

IMG_2660

About the sands. Another interesting fact is how fast the dessert creatures adapted. Spiders, lizards, and other dessert animals have lost their pigment and blend in with the sand, and it all happened over just a few thousand years of evolution. That’s pretty quick.

IMG_2661

Sled marks on the dunes.

IMG_2662

It’s a fine powder. It doesn’t stick or get in your shoes.

IMG_2666

It’s a very beautiful place.

IMG_2669

Bob at the beginning of the boardwalk trail.

IMG_2672

Bob along the boardwalk over the dunes.

IMG_2675

The scenery was very beautiful. I wish the pictures did it justice.

IMG_2677

Little dessert plants living in the sands

IMG_2679

IMG_2686

Our car in a sea of white.

IMG_2712

IMG_2714

View from the top of one of the dunes.

IMG_2715

A family of sledders. Notice they’re in shorts. It was a beautiful day.

IMG_2717

Many people were sunbathing. It was so strange to see all that white and then see people running around in shorts and swim suits. In my brain, white means snow, so it took a bit to adjust.

IMG_2718

One of the picnic tables.

IMG_2719

I think they’re designed to protect picnickers from the wind.

IMG_2721

One of the dunes. It was a reasonably calm day, so the wind wasn’t a problem for us.

IMG_2724

IMG_2725

More of the scenery.

IMG_2728

The sleds at the visitor center that were available for rent.