Right now our little RV is rocking like a small boat on a big stormy sea — and it’s not because we’re celebrating our 30-day anniversary on the road. Although we will be celebrating that tomorrow. The “New Mexico rain”, AKA the gnarly winds that provide constant exfoliation, are threatening to dismantle us. This is probably why everyone here has such smooth skin. The wind is howling tonight, and when you are in an RV, there isn’t much you can do about it, except park in an underground garage, or duct tape yourself to big rocks. The later was our only option. Fortunately, we’ve had some really good days exploring, so that should make up for the lack of sleep tonight.
We’re discovering that true exploring is like a game of Clue, where each person you take time to talk to leads you to another open door, and a new adventure that just seems like it was “made to be”. As we were driving over the beautiful mountains from Carlsbad to White Sands, NM, we stopped in a little mountain town called Cloudcroft and I took a wrong turn down a back road that happened to pass the ranger station. I decided to pull in and we talked to the Ranger at the desk who was full of great information on where to camp in the area. We followed one of her suggestions up in to the hills, on a quiet dirt road, to a beautiful little spring fed waterfall. We parked just below it, did some hiking, and camped.
The next morning, we walked up to a little meadow above the falls and spread out in the grass to do some yoga, and then meditate by the gurgling spring. It was magical.
We then packed it up and headed down the mountain towards White Sands. I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting too much. We’ve seen dunes before, and I’ve been to the incredible salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia. There, the vast expanse of white salt flats layered with inch deep water can leave you breathless, and without words to describe the phenomenon you have no reference for. Could the White Sands measure up?
It was midday when we got there and we made the obligatory stop at the welcome center to get info before heading in. I saw a motorcycle just like mine parked out front. Well, just like mine except loaded up with packs, tools, and gear for a year-long, two-wheeled adventure. As we exited the visitor center, I saw the rider with her bike now parked in front of the big “White Sands National Monument” sign — preparing to take a selfie, I presumed. Clare and I walked over and offered to take the photo for her, so she could get her bike and all the fixins in the shot. She was happy to have our help and upon further investigation we found she was on a cross-country road trip – solo.
Her name was Madeleine, and she was the sweetest lady. She shared her story of getting a cancer diagnosis, losing her teaching job, and now living life full-out by riding her bike to places unknown. She had ridden before in south America, Alaska, and other parts of the U.S. If this trip went well, she hopes to ship the bike, with her on it, to South Africa to explore that continent too. What a gem she is! She even shared the story of how she once helped a stranded motorist who was out of gas, by offering her own limited supply from the extra canisters on her motorcycle. She then realized, after he told her, that the motorist was Ewan McGregor – and he was on his own little road trip. They became friends and he even mentioned her, and her rescue, when he was a guest on the Jimmy Fallon show.
We shared some more stories, then said goodbye and watched her ride off in to the midday sun. We headed in to the park and soon realized this was no ordinary sand dune. The “sand” is actually gypsum crystals and it is incredibly soft and cool to the touch. It holds water for long periods, creating a rich and unique eco-system. After hiking around and marveling at the vast beauty, we agreed we needed to be here for sunset and decided to take a lunch break, then come back for more exploration in the evening. We did, and it was amazing! The light was incredible and the dunes took on a completely different personality in the setting sun. We left our shoes in the RV, remarking how the feeling of the “sand” on your feet was such an integral part of the dunes experience. We felt sorry for the visitors who never bothered to take their shoes off, and sink their toes in the cool, soft crystals.
As the sun hit the horizon, we just didn’t want to leave! We were the only people out there and realized it was nearing park closing time. Oops. We grabbed a few last shots and scurried back to Stella, our RV — only to find the flashing blue and red lights of the park ranger’s truck guiding us to her like a homing beacon. We waved and skadooshed it out of the park just as the gate closed behind us. What a day.
It was late and we targeted a beautiful campground that some other people had recommended. The gate was locked by the time we arrived, so we parked in a gravel pull-off, just outside of it. We were technically on BLM land, so we figured we were legit. The next morning we got up early so that we could evacuate before the Ranger opened the gate at 7am. We were still packing as he drove by us to unlock, and he didn’t give us a second glance, so either we were fine there or he had more important things to deal with, like opening a gate.
Since we got up early we decided to head to town to find someone else to cook breakfast for us. Clare googled a few spots, and after missing the exits for the first couple, we targeted a third that she insisted was “the one”. It was well out of our way, and I grumbled a bit, but I now know better than to question her intuition, so we pressed on until we arrived at the Indulgence Bakery & Café in Las Cruces.
It proved to be the right choice, and another clue in our game of “Follow The Leads”. Our waitress, Ashley, was delightful and gave us a written note with suggested hikes and places to visit in the area. She also shared some of her own hilarious travel stories – including the time she and her husband abandoned a long river tube float and tried to hike back to their car 7 miles away while empty handed and barefoot, making instant MacGruber shoes from a found phone book and plastic garbage bags. Yeah, we’ve all been there.
We followed Ashley’s clues and hiked the Soledad Canyon trail, which was just beautiful! On the trail, I saw a sticker on a trail marker from Organ Mountain Outfitters, a local shop. I recognized it to be another clue, and added it to my notes. After the hike, we went down to Mesilla, which Ashley also recommended, and browsed the historic old town, quaint shops, and New Mexico architecture. Our first stop was in to a pottery shop where we spent 30 minutes or so just getting to know the couple that owned it and sharing stories with them
It was nearing closing time, so we looked up, and made a dash over to Organ Mountain Outfitters to see what they had in store. It was a cool little shop mostly filled with T-shirts and wearables with local logo designs. We grabbed a couple shirts and chatted with the young man working there, who gave us more good info on where to overnight the RV for free up near the Organ Mountains. We took his advice and headed up to the Sierra View Trail area. We found a nice little pullout with a view of the mountains and set up camp for the night.
As night fell, the winds began to howl. Things on our Stella that never rattled began to rattle. I took the bike off the back and any other wind-catching doodads. It began to feel like parts were going to be ripped off, and the camper shook like a clanky rollercoaster in the early days of Disney. Finally, at about 1:30am, we decided it was better to pack it up and look for a hotel for the night in town, so we did.
We’ve really come to realize that when you are in an RV, you are much more connected to, and part of, the weather. Wind can be one of your biggest challenges, while driving or camping. Even though you are protected by your house on wheels, you revere your environment much more than you do when at home or hotel.
After getting a little bit of sleep in our hotel, we packed up again and headed back to the Indulgence Bakery again for a comforting meal. The friendly staff and tasty food renewed our spirits. Meeting the owner of the café, Meagan, and chatting about our mutual love for Hawaii, really brightened our morning. We were back in our groove and ready for more clues!
What we thought was going to be a quick meal stop in Las Cruces turned in to a day-and-a-half adventure and we were so excited to explore this little gem! Now we are on our way to the Gila National Forest, and search for more clues.