Sunday, December 11, 2011

July 2010 Travels in New Mexico - Part I

Let's see. Where was I. Oh yes. Washington state. Near Canada. In the last week of July, 2010. One day I was at the border with Canada, alerting border authorities to illegal bunny rabbits, and then the next day I flew down to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to see my friends Brian and Natasha. We ate dinner at this restaurant, which had dried peppers hanging from the rafters. There are no restaurants with dried peppers hanging from the rafters in Seattle. This means Albuquerque has one up on Seattle.

Having had dinner with my friends, the next day I promptly abandoned them to drive down to El Paso to see what the southern border was like. I booked a stay in a bed and breakfast just outside of El Paso. I wasn't expecting a road like this on the way to it.

Casa de Suenos was where I stayed in El Paso. I was only there one night. I enjoyed my stay, though!

A Coca-Cola cooler. For display only. The cokes were in a mini-fridge in the house.

Here's the back porch. You could go out here to look at the back yard.

Here's the back yard. Needless to say, it's not exactly downtown.

After dropping off my bags at my room, I headed into El Paso. This is El Paso City Hall. It was what I was in El Paso to see. I got there late in the day, though, after it was closed.

This is the back of City Hall. It faces the city of Juarez, Chihuahua in Mexico.

And in the highlighted part of this picture is the hole made by the bullet that flew across the border from Juarez. Fortunately, even though the office was not empty, nobody was killed--although anybody standing between the window and the wall inside the office where the bullet lodged could easily have been. The stories I read said authorities on our side believe the bullet was fired by Mexican authorities engaged in a gun battle with members of a drug cartel in Juarez. This happened around 4:50 p.m. on weekday. I spoke to one of the city workers who said he was really nervous about coming back to work the day after it happened. But he did. And so did others.

This is the hill overlooking the city of Juarez. The message says, "CD JUAREZ / LA BIBLIA ES / LA VERDAD / LEE LA," which I have heard means "City of Juarez. The Bible is the truth. Read it." The people in Juarez, murder capital of the world, need it.

I got into El Paso pretty late in the day. While I was there, this wall of clouds was rolling over the city. It looked like a giant tidal wave of clouds. Strangely, although it looked fierce, there never was a bad storm. It rained--in the middle of summer in El Paso--but it was just rain.

There was a Scottish Rite Mason Temple near City Hall.

The colors on the sphinxes outside the temple were really vivid. They looked brand new.

This is El Paso and Juarez. There is a border in there somewhere. Kind of hard to spot, eh? Before illegal immigration became such a problem and before Juarez became a war zone, the border was not a big deal for the people in either city.

I hunted for a geocache near City Hall that I never found and eventually ran out of daylight. Juarez has its Bible message. Texas has this giant glowing star on Franklin Mountain.

You can drive up the mountains that surround El Paso. It is a great view at night, but the road is pretty much parked solid with people enjoying the view. I did manage to find a spot half way down the mountain to stop and take this picture. I headed back to the bed & breakfast for the bed part.

This was not the alarm that woke me up the next morning.

This was the quad between the rooms of the inn.

The common area with the big couches. I assume they were comfy. I never sat in them. The man in the doorway coming into the room is one of the owners.

Some turtles on the wall.

I took a picture of my room.

My room, with the door open to the common area.

The private porch outside of my room.

I drove past this church on my way into El Paso. Oh, how I wish I had been able to see The Great Dachshund Stampede!

While I was in El Paso, I observed several different kinds of fences along the border. None quite so simple as the border fence with Canada.

Here's another fence. This was in a small park along the border. Border Patrol was nearby.

There was supposed to be a geocache in or near this rather sad fountain. It wasn't there when I was, though.

I did disturb two stray dogs. Here's a picture of one of them I managed to get before they disappeared. It also displays a third type of fence used at the border.

A better picture of the Rio Grande. Everywhere I've seen the Rio it hasn't been so Grande. Although I suppose any river in the middle of the desert is grand.

I finally did manage to find a geocache in El Paso. I hadn't really planned on going back to El Paso the next day, but I didn't want to leave the city without finding at least one. As I type this, I suppose the decision to go back to El Paso for a little while in the morning is an important link in the chain of events that eventually got me in trouble at White Sands . . . more on that later.

The view of El Paso from the cache site. The cache site was near a very nice neighborhood near the hospital. Having found a cache finally, I was off to White Sands!

That didn't take long did it?

The visitor center at White Sands. Your great-grandparents' tax dollars at work. As it turned out, there had been a missile test earlier that day, so if I had left earlier, I would have probably had to have spent an hour at the visitor center waiting for the monument (park) to open.

Time to drive out to the white sands.

The dunes were not completely barren.

After a little while, I was driving on white sand.

See the nice fluffy clouds? That would change.

Stopping to take a picture, a family asked me to take a picture of them with their camera. After that, they offered to take a picture of me with my camera, so here I am. This might have been the last picture of me if things had not worked out later.

I arrived at the trailhead of the Alkali Flat Trail around 5:00 p.m. The Alkali Flat Trail is a 4 mile trail around the dunes. I figured I probably had enough time to complete (most of) the trail before dark. Notice the storm clouds? I did. I figured I did not care much about getting wet. I was ready for that; after all, I had an umbrella with me and I had all my clothes in suitcases in the trunk. I figured I would just change somewhere if need be. The clouds behind me were darker and were flashing lightning. I thought about not going in because of that, but chose instead to proceed because I wanted to walk the trail. That was a bad choice.

I walked on into the park. These storm clouds at the edge of the dunes were coming closer. At this point I would guess I was a little over a mile in on the trail.

Ignoring the clouds behind me--and the lightning coming from them when I started--was a serious error. The storm and the lightning had intensified and were now more or less on top of my car.

I now had a problem. Walking a half hour back through a field of empty sand dunes back along a trail that sometimes crossed over the tops of the dunes during a lightning storm didn't seem like such a good idea. I decided to find a low spot off of the trail, hunker down, and wait for the storm to blow over me. I figured that would take about 20 minutes. I figured wrong.

Unfortunately, the storm behind I had ignored was now colliding with the increasingly severe storm in front of me, and neither storm was going anywhere.

I did spot this critter while I was deciding where to dig in. That was neat. I figured I probably wouldn't be able to see a white lizard like this anywhere else.

Here's a closer look at the lizard.

Here comes the rain. A few minutes after this, the storms were on top of me. They ran into each other and just stayed there. For around 80 minutes, I was stuck out on the sand dunes in the middle of two colliding thunderstorms while rain poured down on me and lightning crashed down all around me. For one lightning strike near the very end, I heard the air start to sizzle. That lasted about a second, then there was a loud crack, and then almost immediately very loud pow. I had been timing the flashes and thunder and there had finally been a little pause meaning the lightning was moving away and then came this strike that was basically right on top of me. I waited for another strike, it was a little distant again, so I decided to go. I would have been happy just to sit there and wait for the storm to move even further away, but there was another storm front moving in and I would have had to sit through even more lightning. I made it back to my car in the dark, drenched, and covered in white sand. I was grateful I wasn't killed by the lightning. I won't do that again. There was still one last hurdle--the rain had flooded the parking lot and the roads back to the visitor center and it was next to impossible to tell how deep the standing water was. My rental was a Chrysler 300 that sat low to the ground; four wheel drive it was not. Plus I didn't know how soft the sand got after a rain like that. But the water wasn't too deep and the sand wasn't too soft and soon I was on my way back to Brian's and Natasha's house.

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