White Sands National Monument

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Wow. In a year that has seen me do less paddling in particular and less outdoors stuff in general than I’d like, I have been incredibly lucky to get to see some extraordinary sights, sounds, and natural features in general.

A lot of that has paired up, too, with the fact that I’ve been able to spend a ton of time with Chrissy–we’ve been dating for just about thirteen months (this time),  and have seen so much together–from ending January with a view of the full lunar eclipse, to our mid-summer Iceland cool-off, all the way through to our most recent hikes in Saguaro National Park, near our new (temporary) home of Tucson, AZ.

I ended up driving the way from Chicagoland to Tucson, picking Chrissy up just a couple days later from the Phoenix airport. Along the way, I treated myself to tasty food and brews in places like Tulsa, Amarillo, and Cloudcroft, NM.

It was while staying in New Mexico that I got myself out to White Sands National Monument, although the day I went the highway going into the Monument was closed due to missile tests at the nearby Missile Testing Range–if you do plan on going, please make sure that you check the status here.

At this preserve, white sand dunes feel like they stretch for miles in front, behind, and all around you, an otherworldly landscape reminiscent of Far-North Tundra. 

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Of course, I sought out the most difficult hike in this 225 square mile park, the Alkali Flat Trail, at the far end of the Dunes Drive. This is a five mile hike but is pretty difficult, and I would not do this hike in any season if I had less than a liter or so of water–and I would not hike this in the summer outside of sunrise or sunset, period. A map is generally not necessary–follow the red markers and you will be fine as you wind a few miles up and down glistening white sand dunes, until you get to the edge of ancestral Lake Otero, where a sign is apt to remind you that you’re on the edge of a missile testing facility.

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The hike then begins to circle back the rest of the way to the trailhead, and this was when the clouds began to part for some really striking photos. To really hammer home the point that this is an incredibly special place, I stumbled upon this wedding that I was able to snap some nice photos of: 

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