Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sun, Feb 7, 2010: Journey to Southeast New Mexico, Day 4

My trip home was thankfully fairly uneventful, and the weather was pretty decent despite predictions of snow all the way up to Colorado.

Leaving from Carlsbad, I took the same route home as I had taken in. This was, of course, thanks to my terrifying night in Alamogordo. (Next time I go to White Sands I'm so camping in the park...!). While this isn't usually my style, I didn't mind the trip too much because for the most part the weather as I drove in to Carlsbad on the 4th was terrible. I was able to see so much more of beautiful New Mexico as I drove north, back to my responsibilities, back to joy and burdens, back to friends and laughter and stress.

While thinking of "home", I realized that maybe home for me doesn't exist in another person, or in a place. I think that Home for me is that special place inside of me that opens up when I travel. I truly believe that traveling for me is the fastest, surest connection to my true self, to my spirit, to the reason why I chose to be reincarnated onto this Earth. Travel plugs me in to the Universe so fast and hard that I crave it like experiencing the feeling is my addiction. I wish that I could find more ways to plug in to my soul, but right now I feel amazingly blessed to have the one.

Sat, Feb 6, 2010: Journey to Southeast New Mexico, Day 3

In my motel room last night, I couldn't shake a strong feeling of uneasiness. I woke up in the middle of the night, my skin clammy with a cold sweat, and my muscles were contracted so hard that I was shaking. Visions flashed across the room of faceless black demonic creatures binding me and taking me away from the fragile safety of my motel room. Against the back of my eyelids, I saw fire reaching up from the center of the earth to suck me through a vortex of flames into a terrifying dark cave of fire. For a time, I was immobilized by the fear that someone was going to break into my room and kill me, but was eventually able to force myself out of bed to double check that my room was secure. I dragged a chair in front of the door for good measure, and attempted to huddle motionless under my blankets in the hopes that if I didn't move, the fear wouldn't be able to find me.

I did eventually manage to get a few hours of sleep, but instantly decided upon waking that I had no desire to spend another night in Alamogordo, which had been my original plan. I have several thoughts as to why my experience sleeping in this town was so horrifying: was it residual radiation from the atomic bomb tested near the town? were the visions simply my brain's way of processing my experiences in the Caverns earlier that day? was I disturbed by the sounds of my motel neighbors moving around late at night? was I simply afraid of traveling alone? is there residual bad energy in the motel room, motel area, or in the town from some incident that happened in the past? At any rate, I checked out very early in the morning and was immensely relieved when I finally sat down in my car and locked the doors. It was the first time I felt safe since leaving my car the previous night.

I learned that White Sands National Monument opens its gates at 7am, and I arrived at the park around 6:15. I had really hoped to get some special pictures of the sun rising over the dunes, but figured I would take a drive and enjoy the sunrise over the desert just as much. I took a little drive down Rt. 70 (which is different from I-70 that runs across Colorado) and headed towards the Air Force base. The San Andres mountains to the west of me began emerging from the depths of the thick early morning light, and became massive towers of soft pink rock mounted on the desert floor. I turned around and headed back towards White Sands, and was stopped at some sort of search checkpoint on the side of the road that was run by military officials. The man asked me if I'm a US citizen. I said "Yes". He said "Thank you", and waved me on. Now that's more like it!
White Sands was AMAZING. I was in awe. As I drove through the park, I watched the beautiful sun rising and changing the colors of the sand and air, and the mountains surrounding me. The road through the park actually changes into a dirt road, so I was driving on packed white sand as I headed deeper and deeper into the dunes.
Desert sunrises have found a special place in my heart. :)
After my terrifying night in Alamogordo, I was afraid that I might not like the vibe of White Sands, or might feel scared of traveling alone. I was so, so deeply relieved to find that I felt nothing but peace, happiness, and safety while navigating through the dunes.

There was a massive shallow puddle in one of the parking lots, so I had what I assume is the somewhat rare pleasure of seeing the dunes, bathed in sunrise light, reflected in the water:
I decided to hike the Alkali Flats trail (4.5 miles) despite being alone, and figured that if I feel like I'm getting lost I can always turn around and take the trail back to my car. I took inventory and got a basic sense of direction from the mountains and position of the sun, and was off.

The sand at White Sands is made of gypsum, which makes plaster. Exposure to the sun and rain has hardened the sand, making a sort of crust that's pretty easy to walk on. When I visited the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, I found myself slipping and floundering across the sand. This was not the case at White Sands, and I was able to walk with ease across the beautiful dunes.

I felt like I was in an alien world as I became further surrounded by the desolate dunes. For the second time in two days, I found myself immersed in an environment of Absolute Silence, though the silence was even more complete at White Sands than it was in the Caverns.
I stopped many times along the trail and held my breath, just to experience the feeling of hearing nothing. It was pure, absolute, unbroken silence. I could faintly hear the sound of my own heart beating, and the ringing in my ears as they attempted to process this strange new sensation. It was so powerful and humbling to experience such beauty before me, and such silence all around me.
The silence didn't feel heavy like a blanket, smothering me; instead, it felt amazingly liberating. It was a special gift to share this experience from the beautiful Earth around me.
During my time in the Sands, I felt completely embraced and protected by the Earth. This was a deeply spiritual journey for me. Later I looked up gypsum online and found out that it is related to the gemstone selenite, which is a stone whose energy I really enjoy. I wonder if the feelings that I had while crossing the dunes were affected by the presence of the gypsum.
I also learned that White Sands has been long revered as a spiritual place for native people who lived in New Mexico, and was often a destination for shamanic journeys. I wonder if this very special spiritual energy has anything to do with the fact that the place is literally surrounded by military presence....
While hiking, I played "follow the markers" which dipped in and out of view over the shoulders of the undulating white dunes. At times, the markers were impossible to see because they were buried in the sands, but for the most part they were visible and I made sure to always keep the previous marker visible behind me as I moved forward.
The apex of the trail loop stood in the middle of an ancient lake bed nestled in the middle of the desert plain. It is from this place that the gypsum sands originate and blow onto the dunes.
This is a view to the northeast of Sierra Blanca, a random 12,000 foot peak north of Alamogordo. If I'm remembering correctly, I think the dunes move in a northeasterly direction about 20 feet per year. I don't blame them - if I had this promise of beauty perched on my horizon every day I'd feel compelled to move towards it as well!
There wasn't much life on the dunes, and what little there was could be found in the small flat spaces between the dunes themselves.
I left White Sands feeling blessed and full from my experience there.

I decided to head back to Carlsbad for a self-guided tour of the Caverns, and figured I'd stay in the motel where I stayed my first night in New Mexico. Rt. 82 looked like the most direct way across the mountains, so I hopped on and headed out.

The mountains rose swiftly above the desert, and I soon found myself surrounded with what seemed to be foothills and pine trees. It looked just like Colorado, and I had the strange feeling I was just down Rt. 285 for a short Sunday drive.
Shortly after I took this picture, the mountains leveled out onto the desert floor again and became a distant memory as I was one again surrounded by cacti and grasses.

The Caverns had the same effect on me as they did the day before: after getting myself through the initial panic of descending 75 stories into the Earth, I was filled with awe over the powerful beauty of the place. It wasn't entirely quiet, but there weren't too many people there and the few who were present all spoke in whispers.
I was originally so nervous that I wouldn't like the caverns, or would feel cramped or scared like I did in Glenwood Caverns, but I had nothing to worry about. I really, really loved the feeling of the caverns. They're large and cool and I didn't feel stuffy or cramped at all. It was a relief to go back to visit them for a second time and feel myself engulfed in the Earth.
My impression of the Caverns as a mermaid castle persisted throughout the day, and I smiled as I imagined myself in an undersea paradise.
That evening I watched the sun set over the Pecos River in Carlsbad. It was so beautiful and peaceful, and the sky reflected on the surface of the water like glass.
I felt myself filled with happiness and a deep peace as a result of the wonderful things I experienced during my trip, but the knowledge that I'd have to head back to real life the next day hung over my shoulder like a rain cloud. Undaunted, I spent the evening in my motel room looking at my pictures and remembering the beautiful feelings of New Mexico.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fri, Feb 5, 2010: Journey to Southeast New Mexico, Day 2

I woke up refreshed and relaxed, full of excitement and anticipation for the wonderful things I knew I would see. My plan was to head up to Roswell to see the UFO museum, then down to Carlsbad Caverns, before driving south of the Guadalupe Mountains on my way to Alamogordo.

Heading up to Roswell, I saw a lenticular cloud formation to the west, which seemed a little strange to me given the lack of large mountains nearby. Some UFO skeptics argue that many supposed sightings are actually of lenticular clouds. Once again, I found myself looking at this cloud formation with a smile on my lips. Seriously? This doesn't really look like a UFO to me, aside from the classic "saucer" shape.
I was distracted by a sign pointing me to Brantley Lake State Park, a bit north of Carlsbad. I was curious to see what a lake in the middle of the desert looks like so decided to take a detour. I unexpectedly came across the Pecos River, and startled a large flock of white birds who were relaxing on the calm surface of the water. Their flight was a frenzied piece of chaos in the otherwise still desert.
The lake (which I'm guessing is actually Lake McMillan) reminded me a lot of Lake Pueblo in Colorado, though with even fewer trees. It's strange seeing all of that water sitting in the middle of a plain of parched land.
I think this plant is a yucca. Yes, I took a lot of pictures of them. :) I love their shape: the spiky symmetry of the base, and then the random point of stem from which the flowers bloom.
Brantley Lake State Park is actually pasture land for beef cattle. Here are 2 curious cows, one indifferent bull, some oil extracting equipment pumping juice from the Earth, and the dam behind it all, calmly holding back the waters of the Pecos River.
My eyes soaked in the sights abundant in this new place as I headed back to my original route up to Roswell. The UFO Museum is located right on 285 and is very easy to find!

The museum was filled with information, not only on the Roswell incident of 1947, but also about crop circles, UFO sightings, and the Universe. My favorite part of the museum was all of the witnessed testimony from various military officials explaining what they really saw the day of the Roswell incident.
The museum also has a library filled with what seemed like every book a person might ever want having to do with UFOs or "strange" phenomena.
I wanted to spend some time wandering around in what seemed like the touristy area of Roswell, but left instead so I would have time to tour the Caverns before closing.

As much as I enjoyed Roswell, I'm glad that I left... because I absolutely loved the Caverns.
The caves looked to me like a mermaid's castle lifted dripping from the ocean and placed in the middle of the Earth. The stalactites and draperies hanging from the ceiling resembled dripping seaweed, and the "cave popcorn" formations reminded me of coral skeletons.
The rooms were cool and immense, and despite my uneasiness in enclosed places, I felt entirely comfortable and at peace.
This is a panorama of the Papoose Room:
At one point during the tour of the King's Palace, our tour guides asked us to be silent and turned off the lights. Being completely robbed of my senses was such a powerful and amazing experience, and I found myself feeling very humbled. In complete silence and darkness, I was able to strongly experience the energetic connections between the members of our tour group, as well as our collective connection to the Earth through this cave. Once I let go of my "self", I was able to feel the energy of the people and stone around me like a circuit, flowing out and flowing back and circulating in every atom. I was awe-struck by this experience.

This formation looks like it has a giant jellyfish on the wall!
This is the Green Pool:
Many of the pools in the cave have evaporated since the creation of the elevator shaft, because the water evaporates up into the desert. The Green Pool was one of my favorite places in the entire cave. I received 2 cave kisses in this room: a soft one on my left cheek, and a big splashy one on my right shoulder.

When I left the relative colorlessness of the cave, I emerged into a desert that felt more green and alive than anything I've seen in months.
Driving down the canyon away from Carlsbad Caverns, I studied the plant life around me and was amazed by its diversity.
I headed down Rt. 180/ Rt. 62, south of the Guadalupe Mountains, thinking that if I had time I might pop down to Mexico for a bit. The Guadalupe Mountains were covered in sand and a small amount of shrubby looking cacti, and it was interesting to see how different they appeared in comparison to the pine-covered mountains of Colorado.

This is El Capitain (but not the one in Yosemite!):
The sunset was amazingly beautiful, and I felt like every time I looked at it I was noticing something new and special.
The mountains in this area of New Mexico and Texas seemed to randomly rise out of nowhere and erupt into tall, solitary peaks. They were loners without companion peaks to keep them company.
This was one of the most beautiful sunsets I've had the pleasure of seeing in my life.
The sky went down in flames.
Some time later, I crested a mountain range and found myself looking down into the twinkling light-filled valley of El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico. I wished that it was still light out so I could explore the area a bit, but still had a ways to go before reaching Alamogordo.

My attempts to find Rt. 54 in El Paso were frustrating, and it took me about an hour to end up on the correct road. Although the area seemed pretty in the twilight, all tucked in and surrounded by mountain peaks, I didn't enjoy my time in El Paso very much! The drive up to Alamogordo was mostly uneventful but was unpleasantly interrupted by Border Patrol, who apparently don't actually work on the border. I was questioned, had my trunk searched, and was asked for my license and registration. I wasn't in the mood for it after my long search for Rt. 54, so I commented, "I have my passport, you want to see that too?". The military official declined as if he was doing me a favor. Um, thanks?

I arrived in Alamogordo in pure darkness, knowing that there was spectacular beauty around me that I couldn't see, and I eagerly awaited its unveiling in the morning.

Thurs, Feb 4, 2010: Journey to Southeast New Mexico, Day 1

This past weekend, my school had an extended 4-day break. 4 days? How could I pass that up, especially considering I've been so stationary lately?

I decided to head down to southeast New Mexico so that I could visit White Sands National Monument and Roswell, NM (site of the UFO crash of 1947). I hoped to squeeze in a visit to Carlsbad Caverns as well.

Here is my trip map! You'll notice that I entered NM on Rt. 285, and left via the same route. If you know me at all, you know that I dislike traveling the same route twice. An explanation will be provided as this story progresses. There were some low clouds around the mountains in Colorado, which made for some beautiful scenery. Here is Pike's Peak just north of Colorado Springs:
In northern New Mexico along I-25, I ran into some crazy cloud cover. Apparently it had snowed down there the night before, which surprised me since Colorado was dry and sunny. The clouds were a thick, low blanket spread out over the prairie, and conditions were made worse by steam rising up off the road as the snow melted. The drive was pretty intense, and I was very glad when I neared Santa Fe and was able to see some mountains.
Somewhere around Vaughn, NM, the snow disappeared and the prairie turned into a sparsely populated desert.
A wave of happiness overtook my entire being. I was somewhere new, seeing something different! I've deeply missed feeling that excitement and awareness with every inch of my spirit.
Roswell was the first real town I drove through since somewhere in Colorado, and I was so excited to be there! To my great happiness, I found myself in a fairly prosperous looking little town, and was able to spot the International UFO Museum and Research Center right on the main road!
The desert sunset was beautiful, and I was pleased to notice that twilight is beginning to lengthen once again.
I think this is some type of yucca plant. I love its shape.
I arrived in Carlsbad, NM after approximately 11 hours of driving, and settled in to my little motel room for the night. I figured I would try to do the UFO museum first thing in the morning, then head down to Carlsbad Caverns for a tour of the cave. I slept soundly and peacefully, looking forward to my adventures.