As we drove into the distance starring out our dusty, chipped and scratched windshield there was nothing in sight but a vast blue sky with the odd patches of puffy white, lethargic clouds lingering high above.
TThe road ahead of us appeared as it had for the past 2.5hrs… unwinding, unchanging, long, straight, void of any other traffic or signs of life. The radio’s reception wasn’t working so well, just scratchy unnerving airwaves full of twisting static and irregular radio signals cracking in and out with an apocalyptic, parched feeling.
Over the airwaves through the speakers from time-to-time was the faint echo of an audio signal transmitting a Baptist sermon that was being preached from a church that existed ‘somewhere out there’ – between our world and theirs. It emitted from the speakers in an annoying, high-pitch treble, complemented with inaudible feedback that sharply reverberated as if inside a tin-can… kind of reminiscent of a grocery store’s P.A system. The Preacher was talking about the “Revelations” and “eternal damnation”… and we felt like we we’re driving straight into Hell with a full tank of sin.
When the radio’s signal cut-out there was just the monotone sound of the car’s tires drowning out our thoughts as we drove across the hot asphalt. If you squinted hard enough trying to focus past the heat vapors you could tell the road ahead went extinct beyond the horizon. We felt as though we’d been approaching this point for eternity just waiting to fall off into oblivion. The world and everything around us compressed into one, single, tiny dot on that horizon. We drove towards it accepting our fate but the road only seemed to continue on… and on… and on…
Flanked on both sides of the car we were surrounded by a dry, dusty, red-like dessert it was the closest you could get to experiencing a road-trip across the surface of Mars. The flat landscape was peppered with weathered down, sun-beaten trailer homes and shanty, classic motor-homes that no longer shinned with the glory of yesteryear. Instead they acted as sad reminders to be grateful of where you came from. Our minds were deterred from stopping due to the many rusted out car frames that lay abandoned along the side of the roads. Just like the ocean does to a shipwreck, as time passes the desert environment takes ownership laying claiming to those rusted frames with cactus’s and desert shrubs growing from the inside out.
Looming outside the driver’s side window was a rocky mountain that snaked out along the horizon as far as the eye could see. It lingered there like some Leviathan half submerged into the earth as if it had plummeted from the sky defeated by the Gods. There were moments as we drove where we didn’t see a thing. It seemed as though life out here in these deserts were only made for the hardened, armour-like shells of the scorpion and the dry, harsh, interconnecting scales of a rattlesnake… not two guys from Vancouver.
We entered Alamogordo from the north exiting out of Tularosa (another bastion of a cute small American town) along HWY 54 and merged onto N White Sands Blvd. Once we entered Alamogordo there seemed to be everything that one could need. There was a strong sense of respect this small town exuded, we drove straight along N WS Blvd searching one of the many hotels and motels that dotted the boulevard. We finally settled on the Quality Inn; it was central to everything, its access was off the main blvd so there was no driving down nooks and crannies. This was a very small town so getting lost wasn’t really in the cards. The clerk at the front desk was exceptionally helpful who gave us a handful of pointers on where to eat and what to see in and around town. She was especially helpful when we asked – what we felt could be classified as ‘stupid out of towner questions’.
Our room was just what you needed after a long drive and for a couple nights stay. It was big, spacious and clean. As for the Wifi, well as I’ve stated many times I usually judge my accommodations on the Wifi. I know, it’s sad but there could be a corpse rotting under the bed but as long as there is a strong, stable and consistent Wifi connection, that stinky corpse can stay there til morning and I won’t complain. The motel also had a 24hr laundry machine and dryer that came in handy, an outdoor swimming pool, fitness center and continental breakfast.
Alan… Alan… Alan…
Alamogordo, New Mexico; your typical charming American small town that appears to keep up with the modern times at its own pace. An hour and a half drive south is El Paso, two in a half hours west is Roswell, NM. Alamogordo is the place where the locals are aware of what’s going on around them, they are soft-spoken and when they smile they’ll tip their hat with a subtle nod and keep to themselves. Alamogorian’s are very helpful and seem to enjoy and appreciate the everyday benefits and random advantages of things that we city slickers seem to take for granted.
For instance they give off a puckered almost pinched-like quiet but genuine smile. They seem to appreciate helping and looking you in the eyes when listening. They accept the heat of the blazing hot sun, with an acclimate sigh. They gander where as we stare, they listen cordially, where as we speak, they accept where as we dissect.
This little town was at the forefront for one of mankind’s greatest achievement the city dawns a very humbling nuance about it. They don’t take too boasting or plastering it everywhere nor do they have a pancake or waffle named after the ‘Atomic Bomb’. For a town that was the testing grounds for the first successful Nuclear device, the city, is as it states on its official website… “Alamogordo – The Friendliest Place On Earth.” It really is, Alamogordo is home to a number of amazing places to see and possibly some of the most breathtaking panoramas our eyes have ever viewed.
Have you ever been so thirsty and as you’re drinking something that’s quenching that thirst and at the same time your lungs begin to fight for oxygen but for some reason you don’t slow down and let one action compensate over the other. Instead everything begins to run down the side of your face, all over your clothes causing you to cough and choke. That’s what it’s like trying to absorb the scenery here around you.
We had unpacked and settled into the hotel around 3:30 / 4pm. We had noticed that the sky was clear and the sun was shining bright. Knowing we had a comfortable sized room and that there was an abundance of places to eat around us we caught our second wind. We really wanted to get a taste of the White Sands and asked the clerk at the front desk if it was worth taking a quick drive to see the park or should we just wait until tomorrow. She made it very clear that we should leave now and be prepared for a beautiful sunset.
WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK
The 10 min drive seemed to be a bit longer than we expected. We couldn’t find the entrance to White Sands National Park. On one side of us there were prominent patches of white capped sand, topping the reddish/brown sand barriers that we couldn’t see above, so we knew we were in the right place but just couldn’t find the way in. We must’ve passed it somewhere down the line along Hwy 70 and decided to turn back for the better as we had seen a sign that said “To El Paso”.
We turned back and ended up pulling into a `U.S Border Patrol Checkpoint’. The checkpoint seemed a bit strange, it was in the middle of nowhere just this large open air metal canopy providing shade for cars and trucks to drive under. Adjacent was a small office with a radio tower where a crisp American flag hung on a pole. Two U.S Soldiers/Officers stationed with automatic assault rifles decked out in full military fatigues approached the driver side window. He poked his head in glancing at us with our camera gear and could tell we didn’t know where the fuck we were. The car reeked of tourist’s.
We knew from what we were seeing that we we’re gonna be in for something unique and visually stunning. This place is a photographer’s wet dream in a dry place.
He asked, “Where you guy’s goin’?”. We responded that we we’re looking for the entrance to White Sands National Park. He asked for our passports but replied that we didn’t have them on us. He said we had entered Mexico. Considering the out-post location and the military presence he could have told us we entered China and we would have believed him. I guess the speechless dumb looks on our faces were too much for him to handle as he broke out in a chuckle and cordially directed us on our way with the proper directions to the entrance.
Pulling up to the park there is a small fee to pay and because we arrived with only 2hrs to go before the park closed, the operator told us if we came back tomorrow our tickets would still be valid for a full day’s entrance. Once we drove passed the gate things became very strange. At first the landscape is flat and littered with patches of white sand and desert shrubs. On the horizon you can see the twinkling and shimmering lights of Alamogordo and the Holloman AirForce Base. Behind that it’s backdropped by the rocky but beautiful Sacramento Mountains that extend for 85 miles (137 km). Then as you’re driving down the single lane you see these two large white dunes approaching both sides of the car as the road cuts straight into them. Within a moment you are swallowed up on both sides by the 8 – 10 foot white sand dunes engulfing your view on either side unable to see above them. The inside of the car becomes illuminated from light bouncing around and refracting off the white sand. Its an impressive sight as everything is just – white.
The drive through the park is done in a big loop so traffic moves in one direction. Along the sides of the road there are rest stops with areas to park, get out and take it all in. We knew from what we were feeling that we were gonna be in for something unique and visually stunning. This place is a photographer’s wet dream in a dry place.
After a few moments the road opened up into a clearing and we we’re able to pick a spot to park. The instant you step out of the car the first thing that takes hold of your attention is how quiet the surroundings are. It was a very surreal sense of quietness until I was able to adjust, it felt as though I had been wearing ear-plugs and was talking louder than I should be. For instance when I shut the car door there was no echo, just a drowned out thud that didn’t carry on or linger it just abruptly stopped; there was nothing for the sound to bounce off of. The sand dunes absorbed all sound except for the tops of the sand dunes where the sound rolls off into the clear, empty skies.
Directly in front of our car was a 12/15 foot dune sitting there like a large slope of vanilla ice cream. As I took to running up the dune, it was so quiet I could literally hear my feet sinking into the sand, I describe it as a squishy, coarse, grindingly-sharp but soft sound. When I got to the top of the dune I could finally see my complete surroundings. There was nothing but white sand dunes rolling off into the horizon the blue sky gradually transitioning into a soft pink cotton candy color with a vibrant orange glow at its center. It was utterly breathtaking.
My moment of solitude was broken when someone yelled out in an irreverent tone… “You’re in my shot! You wanna move it!”. I turned toward the direction of the voice and saw this disgruntled retired, windbag photographer with a massive stomach and his lapdog assistant who was holding an umbrella shading the reincarnated version of “Ass-Hole Adams” atop the next dune over. I bit my tongue and apologetically moved out of his shot. Ignoring him was easy, he didn’t own the dune – so all’s fair. We were here to shoot too and if he would’ve presented a little bit more of a nicer approach we’d be more than happy to have shown respect and got out of the way… but it’s moment’s like this when inconsiderate photographer’s shine.
He continued on barking at us that we were in his shot. By now we had enough and made sure to hog the dune and go on about our way not giving a rat’s ass about tubby. We seemed to have pissed him off though as we could hear him taking his frustrations out on his assistant by grunting orders and snapping at him. We could hear everything he was saying because again it was so quiet, the littlest whisper carries very far. It was a good laugh.
On a side note; not all but there are some photographers out there that just seem to feel entitled, demanding and all too pretentious. So they need to be put in they’re place and shown that the world doesn’t revolve around them.
With only 30 minutes to get the shot before the sun went down Johnny was doing his best not only to get the shot but at the same time get footage. I felt bad as he was bouncing between trying to compose and capture as many photos as possible… then bouncing back to recording footage all the while trying to take in the scenery for himself to enjoy.
The scenery was so amazing that we didn’t know what to exploit the most… photographing or filming. It was heart breaking as each minute passed.
And there I was taking photos with my Samsung Galaxy S6.