Day 11 - Wed 19 April 06
Phew what a day! The hotel was quite noisy overnight - I think one of the guests had cystitis, as I could hear him groaning as he pee'd, and the toilet was quite a way from my room. I was up at just gone 6am, and out on the streets by 06:20. The walk up to the car hire place was a long one, and a lot of it was up hill. I got there by 07:30 and collected the car with no problems. It's a big old American lump of a car, well in fact it's a big new American car, as it only has 989 miles on the clock - I'm going to add a few to that!
It took ages to get out of El Paso mainly due to the urban sprawl, and the lack of any road signs. Only the good advice of the car rental people got me out in one piece. It was a desolate drive across semi desert towards the Carlsbad Caverns, and on my way I got stopped by border patrol and had my passport checked.
The Carlsbad Caverns are excellent, there's even a lift down to the "Big Room" to save your feet (or time), and the Big Room is big, it's like no other cave I've been in. Of course each rock formation has it's own name, but unlike Routarua (in New Zealand) nothing with "devil" in it. I took a load of photo's and got chatting to a 'park' ranger, he told me that the cave wasn't carved by water, it was created by acid eating the rock away. I guess that's why it's so big.
From Carlsbad it was back across the mountains, which was very interesting. It started out on a high plateaux with a low scrub covering, but then changed to a tree lined valley called the Lincoln Forest. Almost like a hidden world. After that there was a huge drop down to the flat plain, with tantalising views of white sands. I think the forest was at 8000 feet, and the drop down was over 4000 feet, enough to make my ears pop.
Then there was the drive over to White Sands, which was a bit of a surprise. I was expecting flatness, but its a series of dunes that are moving across the flat plain at about 30 meters a year. The contrast between the desert floor and the dunes is so distinct, it's like a line has been drawn, but that line is moving every so slowly. Out on the dunes there's a whole lot of silence. Also the dunes are not made up of sand, but rather tiny gypsum particles all of the same sort of size, so when you disturb it (by walking over it) it's like the grains in an egg timer.
I ran up the dunes to take some photos. On the leading edge there are quite a few plants, but further back it's quite sterile. After the tarmac runs out, they just use a plough to create the road from the gypsum. It's so white.
Then it was another haul over the mountains through Indian country (complete with Casino) to Roswell. Almost 500 miles in one day. I found my hotel with no issues and nipped across the road to eat at Arbies.
NextView my route through the USA here