Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and White Sands National Monuments

The next place we planned to visit was White Sands National Monument, in New Mexico. We consulted Campendium to find a place to camp for free on public land, to try out our new solar panel. We found a place that looked great. It was further away from White Sands than we planned, (about 50 minutes), in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument at Sierra Vista Campground.

It is a beautiful place to camp, though it isn’t really a campground. It’s actually 4 or 5 campsites, dispersed over a dirt road to a trailhead. We had 1 or 2 “neighbors” some of the time, but they were far enough away that we felt alone. Aside from the gorgeous mountain views, the best part was that our site had a circle of stones for a fire pit, and we could collect sticks to burn in the field. We hadn’t had a fire since we camped in Brighton, MI in December.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument was designated a National Monument in 2014. Thanks, Obama! It’s made up of four areas surrounding Las Cruces, New Mexico, and contains archaeologically and historically significant sites, as well as beautiful mountains.

One day we did a hike in the Dripping Springs Natural Area. We started hiking on the Cueva Loop Trail, but soon left the designated trail to hike near the rock formation. This was fun, until the social trails ended, and we were stuck at the top of a hill with no trails down. We carefully picked our footing through the loose rocks and pokey plants until we met the trail again.

From there we hiked on the Fillmore Canyon trail to a waterfall. I wasn’t expecting an actual waterfall in the desert!

We hiked about 4.5 miles, and the end was tough. We underestimated the heat, it was 89 degrees, and by the end we were out of water.

We also went to White Sands National Monument, which is a field of white sand dunes. It is white because the dunes are made from gypsum crystals. Gypsum dunes are rare, because gypsum is water soluble, so will generally be dissolved in water and carried to the sea. But, in this case, White Sands National Monument is in an enclosed basin with no outlet. Even though the winds move and carry the sand, the dunes generally stay put, because the soft gypsum crystals are still being generated and turning into sand.


Brian and I are both familiar with the sand dunes in Northern Michigan, but these were much different! Aside from just being white, the water- soluability of the gypsum meant that the sand would become hard-packed in some areas where moisture causes the dunes to cement together more. Also, the sand didn’t get hot! We chose to wear hiking shoes, but many people go barefoot.


We did a five mile hike called the Alkali Flat Trail. It’s a “trail” consisting of red signposts sticking out of the sand to follow. Without these posts, it would be impossible to tell where we were or where to go. It’s a loop, and aside from a small area in the middle, it’s not flat!


We quickly figured out why it’s recommended to do the loop clockwise. There were many hills to climb up and over, and there’s a soft side and a harder-packed side. The first half of the trail had us climbing up the soft side of the hills, which was tough! The sand just gave way under our feet! The second half of the trail (when we were getting hot and more tired), had us sliding down the soft side of the trail, which was fun! Each step sunk our legs into sand nearly to the knees!

It was a really fun trail. We were pretty tired when we were done though, walking on sand isn’t easy.

Another day we went into White Sands National Monument late in the day, and did a ranger-led sunset walk. A ranger took us on a half-mile walk and talked to us about the dunes, and the plants and animals that live there. It was nice. But, late in the day there are footprints everywhere! The Alkali Flat Trail was great because we got out further into the dunes in the morning and many areas were free from footprints.

Each time we visited White Sands, we had to go through a border patrol checkpoint just outside the monument. That’s a strange experience. There’s all kinds of scanning equipment, sometimes they have dogs. Then they ask us if we are U. S. citizens, we say yes, and they let us go. We’ve been through four times now. One time they asked us to roll down a window in the backseat. We don’t have anything to hide, and we haven’t had any trouble, but it doesn’t feel good. We are used to living within an hour of an international border, but we haven’t experienced this in Michigan.

Aside from the fun we had at both National Monuments, we had some less fun stuff to deal with. The check engine light had come on (for the fourth time as many months) just before we got to Big Bend National Park. We were in such a remote location that the nearest Ford dealership was 2.5 hours away, and they were so small that they couldn’t get us in for service for a month! They told us the code was safe to drive on though, so we did for awhile.

We drove about an hour south to El Paso, Texas, and took it to a dealership there. They replaced the turbocharger bypass valve. We rented a car and picked the truck up a couple days later. About 20 minutes from the dealership, the check engine light came on again. Grrrrrr. So we took it back, and this time they told us they don’t really know what’s wrong. Something is wrong with the turbocharger system, and replacing the bypass valve was the first step in figuring it out, but since that didn’t work, they will need to start taking stuff apart, and the repair could take awhile. Again, they say it’s safe to drive on, so we will for a few weeks. We have some plans we don’t want to jeopardize, but after that, we will get it in for service again. We only have about 5,000 miles until our power train warranty expires.

On a happier note, while we were in El Paso we visited a meat market called Coronado Prime Meats. They must’ve seen us coming, because as soon as we walked in they were talking up a tomohawk steak. A tomohawk steak is a bone-in rib eye, with extra bone left on for dramatic effect. We got a big one, and some chicken tamales, and queso, and beef brisket burrito filling. They were so enthusiastic there, we bought nearly everything they suggested! For days afterward, we ate like kings! Brian made a green chile sauce and salsa to go with the tamales.

For a couple days, crazy winds kept us inside. There were sustained high winds, as well as gusts. At one point we couldn’t see the mountains because there was so much dust in the air. Before we closed the windows and vents we got a layer of dust in the trailer too. It was nice to slow down and take a few days off. We watched a movie, powered by the sun! We are still getting the hang of the solar panel, but we’ve been able to camp for a week with no electrical hookup.

Brian enjoyed seeing a few new cactuses, including the Fishhook Barrel Cactus and the Nipple Cactus.

Brian’s Cactus Corner:

Day 178 | Mile 18,137

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