White Sands National Monument - 14Feb2018

White Sands National Monument has one of the prettiest visitor centers.  An old adobe building with lovely wooden vigas and timbers. After our long day driving the day before, we were off to a slow start.  The cloudy cool weather promised a bit of rain later in the day as well.  It didn't seem like an ideal day to visit the sand dunes.  

The valley floor is flat and covered in brushy grass.  The sand dunes rise off of this plain in scrubby covered dunes that form a wall around the perimeter.  

White sandy paths lead up onto the dunes in various places.  The sand is white enough to look like snow and isn't any easier to walk on!  

Once up on the dunes, the vista changes to one of white with mountains in the distance and pockets of dry vegetation.  

While the sand appears white as can be, up close it's more of a cream color.  So lightweight though!  It's formed in a process of selenite washing down from the mountains, gathering and then evaporating from shallow pools of runoff  in the spring time, which then dry through the summer, and then wind picks up and erodes the mineral crystals blowing them east where they gather in this expanse of dunes.  

It's an amazing landscape.  One would swear it was a snowy landscape, but it is all sand.  

Ever shifting and changing, the roots of shrubs help give form to some areas, while the shifting sands expose roots and cause plants to collapse in others.  

Any wood in this environment quickly bleaches to white.  

Preserved by the dry, eroded by the wind.  

Tales of time and life gone by. 

Yet life remains.  

A history of the nights traffic across the sand left briefly until the wind etches it away. 

The gray sky acted like a diffuser, flattening the light.  On the dunes, this meant that you could hardly see the detail of the sand ripples.

It became just mounds of white, creamier where it was moist and the plows had moved it aside to make way for traffic. 

The wind and cold meant the picnic shelters were void of people.  The structures looking other worldly somehow in the white expanse. 

Every where we looked, the evidence of the wind was present, etched in the sand.  It was ever-changing. 

My friends and I were tired after our long drive of the day before.  We opted to return to our campsite for lunch and a nap before returning later in the day in hopes of better light.  When we returned to the site in the photo, the wind had nearly erased these  small cliffs of sand!  

With the afternoon clouds lifting, the light was better and the patterns in the sand more visible. 

It warmed up as well, which meant that we could actually get out onto the dunes to explore a bit.

Such a large expanse of white sand!  

I was fascinated with the ever changing patterns.  Here, where footsteps from earlier in the day were being swept away.  

Ripples like water on the beach, but formed with just the wind.  

Then a few sprinkles added variety to the pattern.  

As the day came to a close, I sat atop a dune and watched the colors in the sky and the reflections of color on the dunes.  

Laying on my back, looking up at the depths and heights of the sky.  

What an amazing and glorious creation.  What a vast array of God's handiwork we saw on this trip!  Sitting on the top of a dune with nothing but the sound of the wind across the sand for company, the words of this hymn came to mind. 
Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds they hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed. 
Then sings my soul,
My Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!  
A perfect end to another lovely day.  A perfect end to a lovely trip with dear friends.  

Guadalupe Mountains NP - Take 2 - 13Feb2018

Our first stop on this second time in Guadalupe Mountain NP was McKittrick Canyon.  

We hiked the mile long nature trail, discovering that it was a bit steeper and more difficult than we had anticipated! Rocky and dry and in the full sun, which got a bit warm as the sun rose higher in the sky!

We had been expecting to see a good sized spring on this trail, but it turned out to be a barely damp seep.  It was enough for the birds however and we saw not only this beautiful spotted towhee, but robins, western scrub jays, a hermit thrush, Townsend solitaire, curve billed thrasher, and lots of both mountain and western bluebirds!  

Lovely cactus covered rock formations along the trail.  

Perhaps the most interesting thing on the nature trail other than the bird life, were the variety of unusual rocks we saw.  There were these gray rocks embedded with golden nodules of flint.  

This rock, which looks caked with mud, is actually the unusual eroding of one type of rock embedded in another.  

There were textured rocks with white veining running through. 

And this bubbly looking rock.  All of them from various reef formations that formed in the earths distant past.  Fascinating! 

The trail gave us lovely views out to the south east across the vast open desert.  

A lush spot looking west from a small protected spot, which seemed like an oasis after an hour or two in the hot sun! 

Our second stop of the day was at Frijole Ranch.  What a beautiful spot!  A perfect little stone house, with a spring, lots of trees, an orchard and a lot of birds!  

I've always loved the patina of old barn wood!  

This pond is the reason that Frijole Ranch is located here.  A spring providing bountiful water in an otherwise dry landscape allowed the people who lived here to thrive.

Truly a beautiful spot!  

This ancient cedar had the most berries on it that I think I've ever seen on one tree.  

We saw these shrubs with holly like leaves and teensy red berries throughout the area.  Everything is sharp and prickly in the desert! 

A weathered post with both new and old wire on it.  

The most amazing sight of the day was a flock of bluebirds flying up and down in the field adjacent to the stone cottage.  

On closer inspection, we realized that there was a tiny irrigation canal running through, and a myriad of birds was taking advantage of the accessible water!  

A lovely Cassin's finch with it's pretty red patch glowing in the sunlight!  

After a lovely day exploring, and truly, I wish we could have stayed longer, we headed west, across the salt flat west of the park and then 110 miles to El Paso.  A road I might add, on which there are no services at all.  In truth, nearly nothing at all, for the entire distance, not even a bill board.  At El Paso, we headed north to Alamogordo, NM, where we settled in for a couple of nights.  

Big Bend Ranch State Park - 12 February 2018

After looking back over my blog for this year, I realized I never finished posting about my travels from February.  Because I like having them recorded on my blog as a way of looking back over where I've been and what I've done, I'd like to go back and post about some of the other beautiful places I've been this year before I start posting about my trip to Europe!  Bear with me as there will be a number of posts published over the next few days!  

When we left New Mexico, we knew we had not had as much time in Guadalupe National Park as we would have liked, so when we left Big Bend NP, we headed back.  We chose to head west through Big Bend Ranch State Park.  The road west out of Terlingua offered no clues to the beauty we would see on the road ahead!  

So gorgeous with the Rio Grand on our left nearly the entire way with the mountains and bluffs on the Mexico side of the river framing it..  Then more mountains and bluffs on the US side.  

All along the river it was an oasis of lush grass and trees, and in many places, livestock grazing along the river.  

This location had been used as a movie set for over half a dozen movies.  Truly a beautiful spot. 

In some places the water is olive green but reflects the blue of the sky.  I loved the intense colors of the ochre yellow grasses, black sand, green trees, and green grass that we saw along the river. 

In other places, the river reflected the most intense blue, probably due to the clear blue sky we had! 

Since we were there in February, we didn't get to see the lush grass in shades of green, but the golden ochre hues were lovely too! 

There was a short, but steep canyon gap/ pass with a 15% road grade either side.  Going up in the RV was just fine.  Pausing to take photos was a bit nerve wracking as it seemed that the brakes would surely not hold on such a steep grade!  Thankfully, there were no issues!  

The river was a lovely ribbon of blue green through the valley.

Interesting rock formations formed in the softer rock.

The olive green of the water echoed the green of the prickly pear cactus.

The Rio Grande forms an international border: Mexico on the left, the US on the right.

At one stop along the river I found this bit of wind sculpted sand.  After walking around the area for a while, I came back to the same spot before leaving and already it had blown nearly completely away! A landscape evolving literally before our eyes.  

Truly a beautiful area.  

Further down the road, another area of interesting rock formations.  This time in red sandstone.  Bitter cold wind here, so we did not stay long, though I did find a sheltered spot to do a water color of this scene from.  

After a brief stop in the small town of Prosidio, we headed north across the broad grassy expanses towards New Mexico.  This was what I had expected most of Western Texas to be like!  

Our lovely day came to end as we arrived in New Mexico to views of the Guadalupe Mountains.  We went back to our least favorite campground of the trip at White's City RV, mostly because we needed electric hookups in order to stay warm.  We were sitting in the RV downloading photos when the lights began to flicker, then a sound like a gunshot and everything went dark!  At first I thought that the furnace had blown, but then we realized others were also having issues.  Apparently a transformer in the RV park had blown.  I unplugged the RV and turned everything off, put extra blankets on the bed, and added long johns and wool socks to my nighttime wardrobe.  It was cold with an expected low of 26 degrees F!  The kitties slept under the covers with me and we were snug and warm in our little nest.  It was chilly getting up, a cold 22 degrees F, but we tried plugging in again, and much to our relief, the electricity was back on and everything warmed up nicely!  The crazy thing was, it never even occurred to me that I had a generator in the RV that I could have turned on so that we could have had heat and lights all night!