January 7, 2013
From White Sands National Monument we drove toward Las Cruces looking for Aguirre Springs BLM Recreation Site. A guide book author described it as “one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever camped.” Sounded like we shouldn’t pass it up. But all I could think of was “Aguirre: Wrath of God”, the disturbing film by Werner Herzog that I saw many years ago. (After recently reading two books about the Amazon, maybe I’ll watch the film again. BOOKS: The Lost City of Z, State of Wonder.)
We were on a trajectory toward Texas and Big Bend National Park, still searching for that elusive warmth. We forgot that maps are two-dimensional and land is three-dimensional and find we were unfortunately gaining elevation as we neared Aguirre Springs. The side road leading into the campground took us even higher toward pointy crags. The desert floor dropped away like a trough below a great tsunami. Snow cover increased and patches obscured the road. The view was spectacular but also strangely unfriendly, even intimidating. The two nearby trailheads had stern warnings, informing hikers that others have died in this area by underestimating their ability or the situation.
In the great valley below, the town of White Sands could be seen, isolated in the White Sands Missile Testing Range. As night quickly fell, the town sparkled like a galaxy in empty space. It was self-contained, seemingly oblivious to the grandeur around it.
The next morning, I explored the area in dawn light. The sun shown brightly in a welcoming blue sky; the mountains did not seem so formidable now. In daylight, the town of White Sands shrank to a small, less obtrusive, cluster of buildings. The pinnacles above us, called the rabbit ears, glowed in the growing light.
While sitting at the picnic table, gazing into the vast expanse, I saw, far in the distance, a large white cloud burst into being. An explosion. Using my camera’s telephoto I looked for details, but saw no structures, people, or equipment. Then an enormous KA-BOOM resounded as the detonation reached our ears. A missile test I presume.
We left early, on the road to Texas.