Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 1: The White Sands of New Mexico

I know how some of y'all love a travel journal and even though I am in the process of posting all of my reviews on TripAdvisor, I am going to share them here, too. If you have zero interest in reading The Miller Adventures during a 4-Day Pass, then pop back over on Monday. It should all be over by then. Until then, each day's post will detail the fun we had and just some of the 700 pictures I took. 

Meet Me at Midnight 
The Soldiers of the 352 were released from McGregor (a training base in the middle of Nowheresville, New until you see the prison and hang a right...) at 12:01 AM. DivaV and I, along with 2 other wives (MamaBear and Medusa...Medusa does not at all have snakes for hair, but she can do ahmazing things with the mops atop a head and she keeps me dyed and trimmed), had just arrived at the El Paso airport and we were debating whether to drive to McGregor or go to bed. Also, the Ft. Bliss Lodging bar was closed. (It made a difference). MamaBear and Medusa headed to McGregor (after a brief and unfortunate run-in with the Mexican border), while DivaV and I slept until the phone rang at 12:30 (for those of you playing at home, that is 2:30 AM our time). The boys were standing on a corner next to the PX, waiting for a ride back to lodging. DivaV and I had scored the last available room at Ft. Bliss Lodging, so the 4 of us piled into our 2 queen size beds and crashed out until breakfast.

Breakfast at Ft. Bliss Lodging was a carnival of carbohydrates...discouraging if you have just given up bagels, muffins, and cereal in an effort to win a bet. We ate our oatmeal and fruit and started the trip north, to White Sands National Park, about 90 minutes up the road (with a quick stop at Mall of America...I mean, the PX. I have never seen a PX this large. President Bush definitely took care of Texas while he was chillaxin' in D.C.).

Sometimes the Reviews Get It Wrong
We arrived in Las Cruces around lunch time and decided to stop since state parks are not historically known for their world-renowned cuisine. Amidst the chain steak houses and fast food joints, this sign caught my eye:

via Google Images
It is a pecan grill and brewery. Plus their logo was delightfully similar to the Daisy & Elm logo. How could you go wrong with that? Had I paused to read the reviews on TripAdvisor, I probably would have blown it off in favor of a China Buffet or a building that smelled like refried beans...but I didn't. And this time, it worked out. De La Vega's is the one and only restaurant owned by Tom and Jeanine Springer. They use locally grown chilis from Hatch, NM and only the freshest pecans, which are picked in nearby groves. TripAdvisor reviewers simply ripped the place apart, barely granting the restaurant 1 or 2 stars and employing lots of exclamation points in the reviews. I have no idea why. Our stuffed green chilis with ranch dipping sauce were fairly fantastic and I accidentally finished off the green chili butter on the last roll. You have not seen disappointment until you watch a man scrape a knife around an empty butter dish. Lunch was a pecan-crusted chicken salad that would have made the chefs at the Pirate's House in Savannah drool with anticipation.  In addition to the scrumdelicious food, De La Vega's offers the Arnold Palmer Tea...a smooth mix of lemonade and iced tea...a concoction that could be my 2011 Pool Drink of Choice (with just a drop of vodka). Clearly, whatever De La Vega's was doing wrong, they are now doing very, very right.

Look for the Dunes and Bear Left 
White Sands National Monument is 275 square miles of white sand dunes comprised of gypsum crystals. Normally, when gypsum flakes, it dissolves in water and washes out to sea, but because the basin has no outlet to sea, the rain that dissolves the gypsum from the San Andreas and Sacramento Mountains is trapped within the basin. This forms a sand that is harmless to your car's paint job and remains cool to the touch, even during the summer months. The temperature hovered around 80 and I walked the dunes barefoot.

Walking up the dunes proved to be more difficult than it looked. The sand shifted under our feet although it appeared to be packed.

Many fellow travelers were  sledding or even rolling down the dunes, but I was focused on getting the best possible picture of a landscape that is generally impossible to photograph.

Ever practical, Neal wore his comfy and supportive tennis shoes for 4 days while I did my best to look cute in ballet flats. In sand. That lasted approximately 0.2 seconds before they came off and I hoofed it barefoot. At one point, I looked back and caught a glimpse of our footprints. This, I thought, is the perfect representation of our marriage...the boy scout and the free spirit.
All along the way, there were windbreaker picnic tables where you could sit, have a glass of wine and a block of cheese and enjoy the mountains without blowing away or swallowing sand. (No alcohol between 1 February and 1 May, though, due to the underage drinking that was occurring during Spring Break.)

 Entrance into White Sands National Monument is $3.00/person and is good for 7 days. It includes a sunset stroll at 5 PM, which we took advantage of because sunset over sand is romantic. Unless you're in Iraq. Then it's just the end to another day. The stroll was led by a park volunteer who had just returned from an archaeological dig in Alaska. We ventured just 100 yards into the dunes while he told us about the plants, sand, and wildlife. I was only half-listening, though, because the sunset was breathtaking and much more interesting than yucca plants.

 As the sun set behind the Sacramento Mountains, the wind whipped and my feet froze to the "this sand does not retain heat" ground, while Neal's knees knocked together. 

But it was all completely worth it...

There is no better spot to witness a sunset than where the pavement ends.

Friday and Saturday nights were spent at the Las Cruces Hampton Inn and Suites, which is close to every chain restaurant you could hope for, plus Wal-Mart, plus a buffet that looks exactly like a Fazoli's from the outside. I had never stayed at a Hampton Inn and Suites, but it was nice to have a mini-fridge in the kitchen for our champagne and wine, and a couch to sit on instead of just the bed. It met all of my OCD cleanliness standards (even the vents in the bathroom were clean...that's nothing short of remarkable) and it was very quiet even though it is located in a rather busy and congested area of town. The only disappointment was breakfast...where the eggs tasted like pellets and they insisted on serving them everyday. I have yet to find a Hampton Inn that rocks a breakfast like the one in Hendersonville, NC. Breakfast burrito anyone?

Dinner on Friday night was at El Comedor in Old Mesilla. It ranked #1 in area restaurants on TripAdvisor and all of the reviews promised amazing chips and salsa, at the very least.

via Google Images

It is hard for me to review Mexican restaurants because, to me, it all tastes the same. Salsa is salsa (although I can tell which is homemade and which is Pace) and an enchilada is an enchilada. The salsa here is fresh, the chips are crispy without being greasy, and the ambiance is very New Mexico-chic. That's about all I remember, aside from the 2 guys sitting next to us who laughed like hyenas and then screeched like crows the whole time. And they were sober.

By 9:30, I was gazing longingly at the bed and by 10:00, I was chasing dragons across the Mexican border and buying margaritas for Geronimo. And, of course, cuddled up to Neal for the first time in over a month.


  1. All of that sunshine and sand makes me really sad about all of this soggy wetness here! :(
    And I can't walk in sand at all. It's ugly.

  2. Your pictures came out great. I especially like the one of the foot prints.

    Can't wait to hear about the rest of the trip.

    Oh...and sorry to hear that you passed up the carbs on behalf of a bet that you are going to lose.

  3. 1. You should frame the footprints photo immediately!

    2. Sacramento Mountains? It was almost like I was there in spirit

    3. I'm assuming you've had real Mexican, so I'm surprised by your statement of it all tastes the same. I've had the most heavenly Mexican food that makes Chevy's look like Taco Bell.

    4. Are the cactus margaritas coming later in the story?

  4. Great pics. Especially love the footprint one. High five for the Arnold Palmer (with vodka, natch). My fave summer drink!

  5. Love the footprints pic! Thats one for a frame :)

    Just add lemonade to sweet tea vodka and cut out the middle man! haha!!

  6. Those pictures are gorgeous - I agree with the above commenters...the footprints are perfection.
    Wow - it was windy Iceland-windy, but those protected picnic tables are way cute.

  7. Wow - those sand dunes look amazing!! Great photos! And all Mexican food tastes the same?! Are you kidding me? You definitely don't get enough Mexican food, my friend, if you think it all tastes the same. Take it from me, the Mexican Food Aficionado. ;)

    The "cuddled up to Neal" part made me smile. So glad you got your 4 days.

  8. Did you not learn that there are three answers in New Mexico - "red, green or Christmas"? The question*, Jeopardy fans, is "which salsa do you want?"

    Frame the footprints - it's a great picture.

    *that is - seriously - the official state question of New Mexico. Does your state have a question? Mine doesn't.

  9. Sounds like fun! Especially the cuddling part!!!

    You will have to try the pineapple salsa recipe I used. Best.Salsa.EVER!

  10. Sounds like a super happy ending to a long trip/day/weekend! And I know it's only the beginning. Those dunes are amazing!!! I wish all sand could follow the lead of that substance and stay COOL to your feet!

    Reminder: When pool weather comes, don't forget you can just simply purchase sweet tea vodka and mix it with lemonade :) Easy, Peasy! ox

  11. yes yes

    frame the footprints

    love this post

    that is all


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