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Texas now, New Mexico before [Feb. 15th, 2013|02:48 pm]
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Pelicans, seagulls, waterfowl

I’m sitting outside this afternoon, watching the first fire we’ve been able to have in what seems like years. I looked over our camping calendar and it has been over a year; the last time we were in a campground that would allow fires at all, there were burn bans in effect pretty much everywhere we went. At the moment we’re taking a rest day in Texarkana at Clear Spring Park, a Corps of Engineers park on Wright-Patman Lake, south and west of the city.

It’s been a pretty day, overcast and a bit chill, but still warm enough to sit out with the fire and watch the birds on the lake. Earlier today we watched large flocks of dark-colored waterfowl (ducks or coots, I’m not sure which) who were apparently travelling with flocks of white pelicans, as they swooped and swam to and fro across the lake. All of them were in constant motion, landing on the water for a few minutes then taking off again and landing in a different area, and flocks of seagulls swirled above them.

We’re on our way to Arkansas to visit family, and from there we’ll be heading south to Florida in March and April. On our way east from California, we got to do some touring in New Mexico, spending a few days on the western side of the state to visit White Sands National Monument, and then crossing the state for a few more on the eastern side to see Carlsbad Caverns.

We had a couple of days open to tour White Sands. On the first of them, J and I went walking in the morning along the streambed in Dog Canyon Arroyo and decided that the weather was too cold to enjoy White Sands. That turned out to be a wise decision, since the wind came up in the afternoon and blowing sand complete obscured the valley floor and nearly whited out the campground. We stayed inside, and except for having to re-set one pair of roto-choks which had worked themselves loose in the blowing wind, weathered the sandstorm in comfort.

When the weather warmed up a little, we headed for the dunes. We drove the loop road, which confounded my north-east raised senses by looking exactly like an ice-covered road, and walked the dunes, taking advantage of a ranger-led sunset tour. The tour was fun and interesting, even if the cloudy day meant the sunset wasn’t that spectacular. The guide showed us a post-card sized rectangle of yellow construction paper, which she said represented the total area of the dune field there at White Sands. Then she pointed to the blue stamp-sized rectangle on one corner: “And this is the area of all other gypsum dune fields in the world, combined."

That’s possible because the valley (Tularosa Basin) containing White Sands has no outlet for rainfall. Gypsum-rich runoff from the surrounding mountain ranges eventually collects at the low point of the valley in Lake Lucero. As the water evaporates and the lake becomes a playa, the soft minerals crystallize out and are abraded away into sand particles, blown into dunes by the wind from the west.

I was surprised that you’re encouraged to walk and sled on most of the dunes, but I saw why when I returned to the crest of one I’d climbed earlier to try for a sunset photo – my footprints from just an hour or so before were already blurred and fading, swept away by the constant movement of the dunes.

The cloudy day made the photos I took studies in gray and sepia (much like the picture above.) I put the best of them up on Flickr: White Sands National Monument, 2013.