Friday, March 2, 2018

'Backcountry' Camping at White Sands Under the Moon

Earlier this week, we spent a night beneath the waxing moon at White Sands National Monument. The park provides 10 walk-in spots set amongst the gypsum sand dunes, spaced around a 2 mile loop. At 4pm, the wind was howling through the dunes at 25 mph. We waited in our rental car, listening to the Trail Show. As the afternoon faded, the winds slowed. At 5:30 we began our ~ 1 mile walk across white sand piled tightly into dunes. Aside from the wind, which was still blowing at 10-15mph, the walking was easy. By 6pm, we had arrived at the #5 pole, which marked our spot. We struggled against the powerful wind to set up our tent, taking turns lying atop the fabrics while we drove the stakes into the dense sand. By the time we got the rain fly onto the tent, the inside floor contained a cup of fine white sand. It reminded me of camping at Cape San Blas State Park in Florida during my childhood. "There are buckets of sand in this tent," my mom used to say.

The night started off chilly. The thermometer at the start of the trail had read 48 degrees Fahrenheit. As the night proceeded, the winds subsided, the temperature dropped below freezing and the moon rose large overhead. Well after dark, we came back to life, exiting the tent to walk around beneath the Moon's glow. It was glorious, the moonlight gleaming against the white dunes, small twinkling frost glistening on the sand, thanks to a light rain shower earlier in the evening. Like kids, we climbed the dunes & jumped, scooted and propelled ourselves back down them, the sand quickly filling our shoes to overflowing. My heart beat rapidly, my body warm from the exertion of dragging heavy feet up the slippery slopes.

Those are the moments, the experiences & memories that make the discomfort worth it. I didn't get a solid night's sleep. It was too cold, I was agitated & itchy from the sand and I just couldn't sleep soundly. But the next morning we woke to a glittering ceiling of frost and a world surrounded by open white sand.

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