One of the few down sides to the photo trips we take is that we have to leave our dog Trix behind. True, she stays in quite the pet resort and seems to enjoy herself but we still have that pet owners guilt thing going. We’ve talked about bringing her along on some of the shorter trips, and since she’s been successful going on our day hikes with us we thought it was time for a camping trip. White Sands National Monument is about an eight hour drive from here, so after a little research we decided to give it a try.
Trix likes to ride in the car, so that wasn’t a problem even if it was longer than she was used to. After a couple of stops for nature and gas we got to the Park around 3:30 pm and got our back country camping permit. There’s quite the safety briefing to listen to as the camp sites are about a mile hike through soft sand dunes and not for the faint of heart. The site is in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range there is also a UXO (un-exploded ordinance) brief the likes of which I haven’t had since my last trip to Iraq. A note if you’re planning on making a trip – The Park and access roads get closed when the Missile Range launches something. Not a surprise since the flight path is often over the park. There is a link and a phone number on the Park website where you can see when the closures are going to be.
There are ten camp sites located on a 1.5 mile loop, and we were assigned number 6. It being the busy time of year I was concerned that all the sites would be in use, but the camp locations are in the flats separated by dunes so there’s no sense of being crowded. Noise wasn’t a problem since the wind drowned everything out. Did I mention it’s the windy season? That made pitching the tent a little bit of a challenge. Still, we got camp set up and had our dinner (no fires but camp stoves are allowed) in time to get out as the sun was getting low to start taking pictures.
White Sands is the worlds largest gypsum dune field, and it defies description. The gypsum sand is almost as fine as talcum powder and in late afternoon with the winds blowing the landscape is almost surreal. When you’re isolated out at a camp site you could easily imagine being on another planet. The Park Ranger cautioned us not to go hiking after sunset, and since the wind erased footprints in minutes I could see how easy it would be to get lost out there. For the same reason they required pets to be on a leash at all times. We put Trix on a 15 foot leash once we got to camp. It let her explore without getting too far away, though she showed no inclination to wander off.
As the stars came out we retired to the tent where it took me a couple of tries to keep one critical tent stake from getting pulled out. The sand is moist enough that it holds pretty well, but once it’s weakened replanting the stake wasn’t an option. Fortunately I brought some sand/snow anchors which took care of that problem, but even so the sand is so fine that it blew in past the rain fly and through the ventilation netting into the tent. Trix was not too happy with all the noise the wind made and with the tent flapping around, but she did OK through the night. In the early morning hours the wind stopped making it eerily silent.
The temperature only got down into the high 40’s so we were quite comfortable with our 3 season tent and sleeping bags. One thing I’ve learned is to use a heavy duty space blanket as a ground cloth to reflect the heat back up into the tent. Since the ground was surprisingly moist that trick really helped. We woke up about a half hour before dawn which gave me time to heat up my coffee (no coffee, no workee!) and set up for the morning picture session.
Once the sun was up we spent about an hour cleaning up and breaking camp, and hiked back to the car. We had originally planned on staying two nights since we weren’t sure if we would get there in time to get a camp site the first day. Since we managed to get both dusk and dawn photo sessions in we felt we had accomplished what we wanted to do. We would have had to completely break camp and the hike everything back in later in the day so we decided to call it good for this trip.
All in all this was a great trip and I expect we’ll do it again some time. And since Trix did so well we’ll be bringing her on some other trips as well!