"Afoot, light-hearted, I take to the open road.
Healthy, free, the world before me.
"
Ė Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

TODAYíS ROUTE:
Alamogordo, NM to Pecos, TX: US-70 West to White Sands National Monument, continuing through Organ to Las Cruces, I-10 East through El Paso to Chamizal National Monument, US-62 East through Cornudas to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, continuing through Pine Springs to Whites City to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, SR-396 East to Malaga, US-285 South through Orla to Pecos. (
MAP)

THE DETAILS:
At the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies a mountain-ringed valley, the Tularosa Basin. And rising within the basin is one of the worldís most extraordinary natural wonders: the startling white sands of New Mexico. For 275 square miles, gypsum sand engulfs the desert, creating the worldís largest gypsum dune field. Iím at the visitor center for the
White Sands National Monument around 9:00 AM, although I wanted to get here shortly after sunrise. Because the site is surrounded within the White Sands Missile Range, the area is actually closed down for a few hours a couple times a week while missile tests are conducted. I start down the dune drive and stop at the first pull-off, The Big Dune Nature Trail. I walk around the mile and a half trail, across the 60 foot dunes. But here along the edge of the park thereís still a fair amount of vegetation. Where are the scenes of just sand and nothing else?

I jump back on the bike and head further into the park. The sand reaches out towards the road and soon the black pavement turns white. They actually have to plow the road here, as the sweeping sands slowly cover the road under feet of gyspum. Riding the motorcycle across the sandy road is, shall we say, interesting. The shifting winds constantly move the sand, and the landscape is forever changing. What little vegetation there is has disappeared and now Iím surrounded by nothing. Nothing but sloping hills of crystal white. Iím deep within the Heart of The Sands. The stunning scene is an endless beach caught in a desert ocean. I walk out into the hills and disappear into the white glow.

Eventually I make my back to the bike, but it would be very easy to get lost out there in the dunes. There are no markers or waypoints to guide your path. And the winds can cover your footsteps as soon as you lay them down. I head out of the park and turn west again, crossing the San Andres Mountains. When I reach the interstate I turn south and enter Texas. Ah, another state! Itís been a while. When I get to El Paso, around noon, I turn off the highway and stop at my next destination, Chamizal National Memorial.

Chamizal lies right along the Rio Grande, with Mexico just a stoneís throw away. For years the two countries had disputed the borderlines here, mainly due to the changing waters of the river, or the Rio Bravo as Mexicans call it. It wasnít until 1962 that  Presidents John F. Kennedy and Adolfo Lůpez Mateos got together and moved to break the conflict. A new concrete lined channel helps keep the river from changing, and the Chamizal Treaty was signed on October 28, 1967. So the site today commemorates the peaceful coexistence of two nations and the cultural understanding between them.

Turning west on US-62, the road empties out and opens up. I love this feeling of being out on the open road with no one around. 100 miles away I can see mountains rising out of the flat land. Thatís my next stop up ahead, Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas at 8,749 feet. I arrive at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park at 3:00 PM. The last stop of the day, Carlsbad Caverns, lies 40 miles to the northeast, back in New Mexico. But the last cave tour starts at 3:30 PM. If I donít get there for the tour thereís really no point in going, except to get the stamp. And I really do want to see this cave. But 40 miles in 30 minutes? Thatís going to be tough. Can I do that? Well, all I can do it try.

At 3:27 PM, I reach Whites City, and I think Iíve made it. But thereís the entrance to the park, and a sign that reads "Visitor Center, 6 Miles." Damn. I hadnít planned on that, and I stupidly assumed the park would be right along the highway. Well, Iíve come this far and I canít give up here. I rush up to the visitor center, whipping around 30 MPH turns at speeds Iíd rather not admit to. I scramble off the bike, grab the Canon DV Camera, and rush into the VC, running up to the ticket booth. Iím late, but theyíll still let me go down into the cave. I DID IT!

A 750-foot elevator ride straight down takes me to the Big Room, a 14 acre cavern which is the largest known natural limestone chamber in the western hemisphere. The floor-space covers 600,000 square feet, enough to fit 14 football fields. I walk the 1-mile self-guiding tour in amazement as I pass the most spectacular limestone formations your mind could ever dream up. Stalactites, Stalagmites, Flowstone, Columns, and more. Itís all here in a secret world, hidden deep below the earthís surface.

Carlsbad is also famous for itís enormous colony of 1 million Mexican free-tail bats. During the day they crowd together on the ceiling of Bat Cave. At nightfall, they leave the cave in gigantic swarms, clouding the skies with as many as 5,000 bats per second exiting the cavern.

But the bats are only here from May through October, as they migrate south for the winter. By the time I arrive, theyíre already gone. With no point in staying till sundown, Iíll move on to Pecos, heading south into Texas again. But I better get gas first as it looks like there is nothing between here and there but 90 miles of asphalt.

I stop back in Whites City, at a Texaco station, and start pumping. But the pump doesnít automatically shut off and FUEL SPILLS ALL OVER MY MOTORCYCLE. SHIT! GOD DAMN IT!!!!! Thereís gasoline all over everything. In my rushed craze to wash the gas off the bike, I drop the video camera on the ground. AAAHHHHH!!!!! CRAP! ^$&%#&!!!!

Well, at least the pay at the pump worked.

And after a quick test, it seems the camera is working just fine.

THE DAILY TAKE:
Miles Today: 383.3
Total Miles: 21,622
Time on Motorcycle: 5 Hours 51 Minutes
Average Speed: 65.6 MPH
States Visited today: 2 (NM, TX)
Total States Visited: 33
National Park Service Passport Stamps: 4
NPS Stamp Totals: 163 Stamps, 30 States
Weather: Party Cloudy (Finally!!!!), Mild
Bats per square foot in Bat Cave, Carlsbad Caverns: 300

SEEN ON THE ROAD:
"Welcome to Texas. Drive Friendly, The Texas Way" Ė welcome sign on I-10, heading into Texas from New Mexico.

RANDOM PASSINGS:
I just finished this journal for day 71, but Iím actually living day 88 right now. Wow, Iíve fallen way behind. I guess all the time Iíve spent on the web site, combined with the time Iíve been spending with friends in the Southeast (Iím in Key West right now), has really hindered my progress with these journals. Frankly, I never even thought I was going to do them in the first place. But writing these stories, and e-mailing them to all of you, has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying parts of my journey. But itís also been the most difficult. Some days I just want to go to sleep after a hard day's ride. And the time I feel most creative, and have the most thoughts rushing through my brain, is when I first hit the road in the morning. And it would be kind of hard to write while riding.

But Iíll keep writing, and I hope Iíll finish these journals around the time I get home, in less than two weeks. Hell, Iíve only got 29 more to do! And a few thousand more miles to ride! In the meantime, keep checking out the web site for new photos and posts all the time.

 


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