The UHAUL was full to bursting, the bus was loaded with snacks and pillows, parents were standing around in pajamas and coke bottle glasses, and the students (that’s us) were gathered around our teacher to make sure we weren’t forgetting anything. It was five thirty in the morning one week into the summer, and there were twenty-one juniors and seniors standing next to a white school bus on the high school sidewalk.
We were the kids selected to attend a Summer Environmental Systems summer trip, and we were about to embark on the 16-day “field work” part of the course. We had already spent a week in a classroom learning how to classify trees and wild flowers, take data from transects, and perform tests on soil samples. These next two weeks were to be characterized by hiking, data collecting, biome sketching, bus riding, cooking, setting up tents, and warding off wildlife. Finally we all climbed aboard the Albino Monster (our bus), and set off for our first destination: Alamogordo, NM, 550 miles away.
We watched as the hill country we were used to in Boerne, Texas faded into the hot desert besieged with saguaros and rattlesnakes. The whole trip we were never allowed to sleep on the bus, we had to watch out the windows and see the different changes our surroundings went through. It was truly amazing to watch the green cedar give way to sage brush, the rocky soil morph into just rocky dirt, and then as we rose in elevation when we entered New Mexico, the rocky dirt give way to mossy, lush ground littered with the pine cones and needles of majestic Ponderosa Pines.
There really is no other way to experience America than through camping and exploring the great outdoors. Can someone say that the Grand Canyon has a twin? Is Mount Lemon in Tucson Arizona with its seven biomes really mirrored anywhere else? No. These places are unique and buzzing with diverse wildlife and foliage. And though they are fantastic in nature and beautiful by all definition, I am here to say that I believe White Sands, in Alamogordo, New Mexico, is really the only place that can truthfully say: “like no place else on earth.”
After riding the Albino Monster down to the bottom of the basin in-between the Sacramento and San Andreas Mountain Ranges we felt tired and hot, and it was only ten in the morning. We parked in a lot inside the park and got out with sunscreen lathered on and water bottles full. A hundred feet from the parking lot was a trail that led up the side of a white wall of sand. When we reached it, we were amazed to find the sand cool to the touch, and we took off our shoes and continued the whole hike on barefoot. We climbed up our first dune, and when we came out on top, each succeeding person let out a gasp of delight. It was untainted, perfect white ground, expanding as far as we could see.
Dotted with brush and trees and yuccas. Pounded by the sun, with no clouds interrupting the robin egg blue of the sky, it was a blinding white. Armed with sunglasses and backpacks we set off on the nature hike, seeing tracks in the sand, white geckos and crickets, and learning about this one-of-a-kind environment. I couldn’t but entertain the thought that it wasn’t gold that paved the streets of heaven, but this beautiful and brilliantly white gypsum that soothed our feet and shone with flawless purity. This was my favorite life experience.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.