On the day we left Las Cruces a dust and wind storm was coming through so we tried to get to White Sands National Monument prior to it hitting but we didn’t quite make it in time. White Sands is truly a spectacular place but it was tough walking with 40 MPH winds and sand continually blowing in to your contact lens! We went straight in to the park and saved the visitor centre for the end because we knew the winds were getting stronger. We walked the Interdune boardwalk and learned about the plants and animals that adapted to live in the dunes and then drove the scenic loop through the heart of the dunes to the Alkali Flat Trail. We started on the tail end of the trail (in our bare feet) and did about 2 KMS of the 8 KMS along the taller dunes but then decided the wind was too strong to continue. The White Sands National Monument is the largest Gypsum (used to make drywall) dune field in the world and has been considered one of the world’s great natural wonders. The dunes range is over 275 square miles and over 20 feature films have been shot here. Back at the visitor centre we went through the gift shop and the exhibits before heading out.
Our next stop was Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and all the reserve in advance sites were booked and when we arrived there weren’t any electric sites available so we had to take a dry camp site. It’s so frustrating how their system works because no one showed up for 5 of the reservation only sites so they just sat empty! The park was named after Oliver Milton Lee who was a pioneer southern New Mexico rancher and state legislator. The park is known for Dog Canyon as this is one of the rare locations that has water flowing year round so it creates a quiet green oasis in contrast to the surrounding prickly desert setting. We did a short tour of the visitor centre before it closed and planned to do the Dog Canyon National Recreation Trail the next day. We knew it was a long strenuous hike so we decided to get up early and start the hike. The hike took 8 hours and 45 minutes and we covered 19 KMS and had an elevation gain of 3200’ with a total elevation travelled of 3900’! Needless to say we were pretty exhausted by the time we finished but we were so glad we had done the full hike. No one else that day completed the full hike. The stream in the canyon was spring fed so the native people used this trail in the Sacramento Mountains for thousands of years. The canyon was the site of several skirmishes between the US Cavalry and the Apaches from 1850 to 1881. Later the trail was used to move cattle from winter basin pastures to spring and summer pasturage in the canyon, unbelievable the cattle made it up here. The ruin of the Fairchild Line cabin was at the box end of the canyon at the 4.6 km mark after climbing to the first bench and the second bench. We had a snack by the stream at the cabin and decided we would tackle the next section called the “Eyebrow”.
The description of the “Eyebrow” said this section was a challenge even for the experienced hiker as it climbs 1000’ in about 1.3 KMS. The climb itself wasn’t so bad but the fact that you had no idea where the trail was taking you and the fact that the width of the trail was about the size of your 2 feet together in spots with an extremely steep straight drop in to the canyon below was a little unnerving!!! We had decided to take our hiking poles and were glad we did. The whole way up we kept thinking we still have to come back down this way since the trail was one way in and then back the same way. However the views of the canyon were phenomenal, when you could actually find a safe place to stop and look around without getting dizzy! We had lunch at the Highpoint Vista, with light SNOW flurries coming down, and then walked through a tree lined valley to the end of the trail. There was a dirt road coming in to the end but you’d need 4 Wheel Drive to get there. On the way back down the sun started to come out so the colours on the canyon walls were incredible.
Once we made it safely down the “Eyebrow” and back to the cabin we stumbled on a Geocache that Shari and Randy had told us about. There was a tearful story of a girl’s Grandpa, Pop-Pop, who had died of pancreatic cancer, and the geocache was to commemorate his life. We left a trail map in the container and saw that Shari and Randy had been the last ones to sign the book about 3 weeks before us! As we exited down the second and first bench several people were coming up but likely just to go the cabin since it was late in the day. I’ve inserted another collage of the flowers we saw along the trail and sunset from our campsite.