Friday, 16 May 2014

Day12: Alamogordo, White Sands National Park,Carlsbad Caverns, Artesia 279miles/449km

We start early and arrive at the White Sands National Monument gates at 8.00am just as the park opens. The white sands are 275sq miles and are part of the chihuahuan desert which is the largest desert in North America (70% of it lies in Mexico.)
We ride around the main loop and stop to explore. We are the only visitors out in the park when we begin our ride.
The white sand is blindingly white. I am surprised my camera coped. My specs were as black as could be and I couldn't see the camera screen very well.
The sand is gypsum(hydrous calcium sulphate) which is slightly soluble. The rain and snow in the mountains dissolve gypsum from the rocks and it is carried to the Tularosa basin where the water evaporates and leaves gypsum crystals. The crystals eventually break down and are wind blown into the dunes. Once a chemistry teacher always a chemistry teacher.
I was surprised to see plants e.g. Sand verbena, yucca and a daisy growing in this environment. The yucca extend their stems for several metres and the flower stalk penetrates the dune. The verbena has hairy leaves which protect it from desiccation.

Sand verbena

We enjoyed meeting Dagmar and John from Kenner. They showed us their skill with a 3D camera and John kindly took a photo of both of us both the bike.
On the road again. Farewell John and Dagmar and the White Sands.

We ride to Cloudcroft ( a pasture in the clouds) high 8,600ft/2,600m in the Sacramento Mountains. This is a ski area but there were only 12 skiable days this season. There was snow yesterday though.
We stop for a break. Christine gave us a great welcome.
I resisted the temptation of the peanut brittle that was saying 'pick me' next to the till.

We descended through forests...

scrubland... desert at 3,600ft.

We head for Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Click on the link which gives you more detail.

We were thinking of our friend Bob's comment that we were 7000' too high when we were in snow... As we descended 750ft in a lift to the Big Cavern.
We step from the lift to a huge chamber - with a rest area and lunch room.We set off on the big room trail. The big room is 8.2acres/3.2hectares. We have chosen to do a one mile walk. There are many other options. I noticed people were very quiet in this place. It inspires awe. The speleothems were stars of the show. A major lighting system shows them off more subtly than they appear in these photos. I didn't use a flash.
We noticed the flag flying at half staff here and at White Sands. I asked the ranger why. He explained it was in honour of all those who safeguard communities in the US. He was very sincere as he explained and showed us that he and other rangers had a black strip on their badges as a mark of respect to those who had died in the course of their duties.

On the road back to Artesia I got thinking about the flag. We have seen the Star-Spangled Banner proudly flying outside people homes and business along our route.

Earlier in the day when we were at Cloudcroft I read the panel with the Pledge of Allegiance below and shortly afterwards I listened to the Mannheim steamroller's evocative piece 'Star spangled banner' under my helmet.

That got me thinking about how significant the star spangled banner is to Americans. Everyday children say the pledge of allegiance in school. The flag is a powerful symbol and the words are potent.

In New Zealand we periodically have a debate about the design of our flag but we don't have a strong historical tradition about the symbolism of the flag. It is easy to talk about the design but much harder to address the deep meaning of nationhood.

I wonder if some of the recent rhetoric in New Zealand about the flag and about our servicemen fighting for the flag might reflect American influence. My father was a WW11 serviceman and I don't recall any reference to fighting for the flag but I can remember the words 'for king and country.'

We have seen extraordinary landforms today. I am so glad that my driver and guide has done such through research and brought me to White Sands and to the Carlsbad Caverns.

We had not visited New Mexico before and we are so glad that we have. We have learned a lot about history, science, geography and unpredictable weather.

Our hearts as bursting with the joy of new friendships.



1 comment:

richard said...

I feel more patriotic because of you!