Sunday, February 2, 2014

Black fields and white sands

Before making my three-month stop at Petrified Forest, a friend suggested I detour to Valley of Fires in New Mexico. It's administered under the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park System and is a ridiculously inexpensive place to plug in for the night - all of $9 for water and electric connections. I was there the last two nights with a zip over to White Sands National Monument in between, via Carrizozo and Tularosa.

Valley of Fires is a 5000 year old lava flow. To me, it's a hard place to photograph. From a distance it looks like wide fields of black rock; close up photos show black rock but lack the context of the vastness of the area. I took a lot of photos and discarded most of them. Below is what remains, but first a view from the night before last in the opposite direction of the lava beds. The haze over the mountains isn't smog or fog or rain. It's dust. The closer I got to Valley of Fires the denser it became. Luckily, even though the wind howled all night both nights, most of the dust remained at a distance. I've never seen anything like it.

A paved path meanders in a loop through the lava. The flow is two to five miles wide and 44 miles long; in places, it's 165 feet thick.

I was surprised by the density of the plant life. Unbelievably, dozens of species of plants flourish in this landscape. There are four species of bats that take advantage of collapsed lava domes for shelter. Lizards, barberry sheep, eagles, hawks, owls, quail, insects, and snakes all live here.

Of course, having written that they exist, none of the breathing creatures made an appearance. I had to make do with plants like this cholla cactus.

A dead juniper serves many of the creatures here. As explained in the nature trail brochure, it provides a perch for birds of prey, shelter for smaller birds and animals, and a food source for insects. As it breaks down, it falls into cracks and provides nutrients for new plants and nesting materials for small animals.

This juniper is thought to be 400 years old. Why did they have to bolt a bench right in front of it?

The sky is totally washed out behind the tree because I woke to snow this morning. I kept a wary eye on the laden clouds in the distance, but the clouds moved on around the same time I did.

The snow made for some nice definition that I couldn't get earlier.

Here's another example of the indomitable plants that seem to thrive here.

And finally, something you don't see every day - prickly pear and cholla wearing tiny pearls of snow.

On to White Sands National Monument, established in 1933. Visitor facilities were designed and constructed over the next six years during the Great Depression; funds and labor were secured through the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). The building was designed in the Pueblo Revival Style, and the architects relied on the efforts of local craftspeople for some of the more ornate design elements.  
Canales (roof drain spouts) were formed from halved hollow logs. Vigas (wooden beams) were often made of peeled trunks and hold up the roof of an adobe structure. The ends of these beams extend beyond the building's walls. Latillas are lighter-weight wood slats that run crossways to vigas to provide support for ceilings.

The gift shop in the visitors' center sells snow saucers to be used to surf the dunes. I almost bought one and as I drove into the dunes immediately started the woulda, coulda, shoulda routine, but when the road went from paved to packed sand I thought it was safer to turn around. It would have been another three miles on that road and I've had enough of expensive repairs for a while.

There was still plenty to see as far as I went, acres and miles of gypsum. 

It looks like white-out conditions but it's just overexposure in the hands of an inexperienced photographer.

There's a nice boardwalk connecting a couple of dunes that are being used for research into plant and animal life. It looks like the beach, doesn't it?

It's just as surprising to see plants growing here as it was in the lava rock. They're not as abundant, but they're still here.

The patterns in the sand are intriguing, from minimalist

to something more definite.

I know nothing about Google Plus, but I just got notice that this photo was added from an auto backup. If the link works for you, you'll notice it's one of the snow photos from above. How does Google do that? (Apparently you have to have a Google account to see it. If you don't, what it is is a gif of one of the cactus snow photos that shows snow falling in the foreground. 

Thought of the day:

I used to be Snow White, but I drifted. (Mae West)