Wednesday, February 17, 2010

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.

1 comment:

willowman said...

Thanks for sharing your journey to NM- I love your descriptions of your feelings in nature. Bravo.