Day 3: Abilene, Texas - White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Got up and started the drive to White Sands. First part of the drive wasn't too exciting...
Toward the end of the drive, we passed through Lincoln National Forest, which was really pretty. Gypsum from the San Andres Mountains that was carried down created the Tularosa Basin and ultimately, White Sands!
We arrived in the early afternoon and stopped at the visitors center, where we were able to get one of ten permits issued daily to be able to backcountry camp among the dunes. Since this was also the first national monument/park of the trip, Melissa and I both got our free military Annual National Park Pass (normally $80). Not only did we get into the park for free, our camping costs were reduced to $3 per person for the night.
We drove as far as could, and then repacked our bags for the night, ensuring we had plenty of food and water. Getting out of the car, it was stifling-hot, but not having anything else to do, we started our hike around 3 in the afternoon. We weren't planning on starting that early due to the heat, but we ended up getting to the park earlier than expected due to an unexpected time change. We set up our tent, hiked a bit more, played on some dunes, and then decided that there really wasn't a whole lot to do in the middle of a desert.
Quite hot, we decided to chill in the tent for a while (it felt cooler inside). After doing that for a while and still sweating consistently, we got out of the tent again to find nice, cool sand where the tent had shaded the ground.
Around sunset, we hiked to the top of a dune to play around, practice our handstands, and take some pictures.
As the sun set, we could see a dust storm off in the distance, and hoped it wouldn't reach us. Getting dark, we decided to head back to our tent for the night. We were trying to decide whether or not to take the fly down (awesome star-viewing if you sleep with the fly off), but it was getting a bit windy, so we left it on. About 5 minutes later, the dust storm hit us. We weren't sure exactly how long it would last - we thought maybe an hour or two at most. I quickly put my camera away in my backpack, but soon realized that when the desert gets windy, dust gets everywhere, with or without a tent fly. I then put my backpack in my sleeping bag and zipped it up to try to keep the sand out. Luckily I had a couple bandanas, so I put those over my face and tried to sleep. Even with the bandana, you could just feel the sand pelting you everywhere. Between the sand, the roaring sound of the wind, and the flapping of the tent (I thought we were going to fly away; noted, next time I'll stake the tent down), it took quite a while to fall asleep, and when I did, it wasn't great. I woke up several times, each time to find myself covered in a new thick layer of dust and sand. The storm ended up lasting through most of the night, so needless to say, it wasn't my best night's sleep ever. The following morning, we hiked out early to avoid, as Melissa put it, "melting our white flesh." I decided not to open up my backpack again until we were away from the sand. Overall, it was quite an experience to be in the middle of a desert with a dust storm. This is also the second dust storm I've had the pleasure of experiencing with Melissa (the first one was at the Palo Duro Canyon in Texas a few months prior), so I blame it on her.
To see more pictures, check out the White Sands Album!