After a great time climbing at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas, the reality of the rest of our trek across the state set in. Long, straight, flat roads with NOTHING on them for miles. Normal travelers would be excited about the speed limit being 80mph for the majority of the journey.Driving the bus is certainly not normal. The bus can get up to 65, but driving that fast kills our fuel mileage and works our nerves as the bus develops a little shake. Hermelda likes it best when we keep her running about 55. After 2 days of getting passed by everything, including oversized trucks with parts to a new bridge, we finally reached New Mexico. We managed to find a nice spot on Freecampsites.net just a few miles outside of White Sands National Monument for the night.
Around 7am we received a lovely wake-up call from the Air Force base in which we were camped right next to and decided to get moving. After seeing several great photos from a lot of our friends who have visited White Sands National Monument, we were excited to check it out. Driving into the park was absolutely surreal. A unique feature to White Sands which seems different than most national parks and monuments is that you generally have the freedom to roam wherever you choose. We set our sights on some of the tallest dunes we could find and started exploring.
Quickly, exploring turned into finding the steepest dunes we could and racing down them on sleds which we fashioned out of what we could find in the bus (if you visit yourself they also sell sleds at the gift shop just so you know). Us being on a fairly tight budget, we decided to make do with what we had. What we had was a Lone Star Beer box and some reflectix. The box worked well, the reflectix not so much. After a few races and having sand literally everywhere, we decided to start making our way further west through the mountains towards Las Cruces, NM. (The sand there is much different than what you may think of as "normal sand." It is gypsum and is much finer, so despite how sticky it may be, it helps for the sledding possibilities!)
The next morning we woke up and went for a quick mountain bike ride as we had some work to do in the afternoon. We were able to sleep right in the parking lot (BLM land is amazing for boondocking) and woke up to meet a few others living on the road with their dog (check out their blog at Dog Eared Journey). After chatting for a bit we hit the trail for a quick 5 mile loop around A-Mountain in Tortugas Mountain Recreation Area. The trails were a good mix of both single and double track with some fun flowy sections broken up by tricky technical rocks. There were lot’s of interesting side trails that broke off in both directions which broke up some of the double track areas quite well. It also didn’t hurt that we had a great view of the Organs for the majority of the ride.
The rest of the afternoon we spent in town at a great little coffee shop Milagro Coffee before camping on some BLM land close to the trail head to The Organ Needle, which we had planned to hike in the morning. The gates to the parking area opened at 8 and we began our journey upward. As we started to hike, Louis got a nice reminder not to run into the many cactus that dot the landscape. Eventually the grade steepened and we found ourselves climbing along one of the many cliffs that litter the area.
Eventually we made the saddle of the ridge, where we began to climb up what is known as dark canyon. As you can imagine based on the name, the sun doesn’t really make it into the canyon too often. Because of this and our elevation gain, we found ourselves hiking up through quite a bit of snow while bushwhacking up the seldom used trail to the high point of the canyon. We were greeted by sunshine and an amazing view of more of the summits in the range. To reach the top of the needle, we had to hike down a bit to find a break in the serious cliff faces protecting access from the weary hearted. A few interesting moves and some scrambling brought us to the impressive summit. After eating lunch and meeting some other hikers from the area at the summit we made our way back down to the bus. While resting our sore legs back at the bus we had a great conversation with one of the rangers who obviously had a passion for public lands which was reassuring to hear.
The next morning we woke up at Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, which our ranger friend suggested we park at for the night. This area is home to one of the most scientifically significant fossil discovery sites in the world, unfortunately though, due to its importance many of the exciting fossils have been removed to be placed in museums. So instead of sticking around too long, we celebrated by firing up the bus and igniting a little bit of that fossil fuel that those from the earlier time periods have gifted us with today. Also, despite the cold mornings the bus has been starting quite well due to our findings that we can plug our engine block heater into the converter in the bus. With our satisfaction from the bus starting right away, we drove to the Dona Ana biking trail head to meet Dave, a local to Las Cruces who generously offered to show us the trails for the day. We were sure glad that he did, as the trail system seemed quite confusing. Luckily with Dave's knowledge of the area we had a blast exploring the multitude of trails that snaked through the desert mountains. The trails are definitely up there in recommendations of trail systems that we have ridden so far in the trip.
We are delighted, but amazed that we have spent an unplanned almost week in Las Crueces. From here though we plan to stay south and head towards Cochise Stronghold in Arizona to climb for a week before continuing to move north through the center of Arizona. Thanks for reading!