Meet Me at Midnight
The Soldiers of the 352 were released from McGregor (a training base in the middle of Nowheresville, New Mexico...drive 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.