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Keep going past White Sands National Monument and you'll enter White Sands Missile Range. If there is a missile test on the schedule, the White Sands Police will block the road, pull everyone into a layby, and even give you a countdown to the launch so that you can watch in awe. On the western side of the Missile Range, just before going over the mountain pass towards Las Cruces, is the Headquarters. It is well worth the short detour to go to the White Sands Missile Range Museum. Located just inside the Army post's gate, there is a large outdoor display of dozens of missiles, a V-2 inside an enclosed building, and a great museum with more missiles, historical displays of various types of communication and radar devices, themed rooms reflecting New Mexico's history with Native Americans, space travel, missile testing, and of course the site of the first atomic bomb - Trinity. If you're not military affiliated with a valid ID card, you must leave the post when you're done at the museum. Visitors are not allowed on the rest of the military installation.
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White Sands National Monument
This is what happened to me. I first visited White Sands in 2006 with my father on the drive west that brought me to California in the first place. I have wanted to return ever since. To walk barefoot on these cotton dunes, and to take the time of day there to simply breath. To be. And also, as a naturalist, to hopefully observe some it’s unique and cryptic desert fauna. But even the best laid plans can falter.Boca and I had intended to camp at White Sands National Monument, and actually sleep on the dunes themselves beneath a starry desert sky. The night prior we explored a prehistoric forest where dinosaurs once roamed, the rocky remains of the Petrified Forest National Park strewn haphazardly across the Painted Desert.After overnighting in a small town called Eagar in Arizona’s White Mountains, we decided to drive south through Gila National Forest. And this was our mistake. The roads were narrow, winding, and poorly marked. We took a wrong turn and ended up on a half day detour, lost amongst the high altitude pine lands of Apache National Forest.We didn’t make it to White Sands until just before sunset. We were refused a camping permit. We were too late. But we were also right on time. In time for what nature had intended all along. A spectacular light show for our benefit. Alone and desperately tiny on the mammoth dunescape, we witnessed our solar system’s fiery center dip beneath jagged dry hills, casting a Santa Fe water color mural across the sky and dunes.We hope you enjoy reading about what we saw. But what we felt can only be experienced firsthand.