New Mexico; I kind of expected endless craft shops, tons of Woodstock brain-burnt hippies, incense, crystals, and new age finger cymbal experiences. Someone waving a bundle of smoldering “secret herbs and spices” around while fanning me with a feather. Wouldn’t be the first time, Enchanted Rock “end of the world 2012”. It was a show! Lots of chanting and drums, not a lot of world ending!
As we pulled into our next park just barely over the New Mexico border I had high expectations. Oliver Lee state park bestowed upon us the holy trinity of Glamping, water/power/and shower. Along with access to White Sands National Park.
At sunrise, the sand was cool beneath our bare feet. My hairy hobbit feet profited greatly from the exfoliation. Shortly after “second breakfast” I began shooting iconic White Sands images. Footprints, and the such. What to say about White Sands? There’s a lot of sand, it’s all white and did I mention there’s white sand? Cause that’s about it. At some point, even Lauren the eternal optimist realized this was basically a beach with no water.
As a kid living on the Texas Coast we often loaded a cooler, coated my tinder ginger white meat with a pump sprayer of sunscreen, and headed to the beach. There’s a certain social expectation about beach going, laying on a beach towel, building a sand castle, lighting a BBQ, and drinking a few beverages.
It appears the same holds true for White Sands / “a giant beach with no water”. Grills ablaze, picnic tables elaborately set for a feast of roast beast. 107 degree temperatures didn’t hinder proud dads from systematically working through the hallowed religious American ceremony of cooking meats upon a charcoal grills. Why is it “All American” to grill things in strange places?
Tailgating is basically cooking in a parking lot. Is it still ok Monday morning at Walmart? Grilling in a park is using open flame public cooking surfaces surrounded by potential forest fire hazards. Yet Smokey the Bear, approves?
As the heat overtook, we sought the sanctuary of higher altitude. Driving to the top of Cloud Croft the temperatures quickly dropped. The scent of Pine Trees and wild flowers danced on the cool breeze. Far below in White Sands, heat waves cast mirages of ice cream shops.
Why on earth would you spend a Mid-Summer day grilling burgers in a desert? What makes White Sands the place to be? Cars lining up, foreign tourist waiting in line to wander aimlessly into a desert. Sure, it should be protected, and it’s beautiful. But how did it become a must visit iconic destination?
From a cool shaded bluff of Cloud Croft, a single world struck me, Advertising. Smirking with smug contentment, “I’ve got no strings”, “this boy isn’t a puppet tourist” throwing big bucks at gift shop junk. I know a desert when I see one. No one’s selling me on a wallet flushing Disney fantasy experience!
Quickly admitting the truth to myself. What if this (#vanlife) is hype? Was I motivated by heavily edited Instagram post, and staged images? Tiny homes, campervans, mini travel trailers, Pinterest, make believe. Like a Thomas Kinkade panting. Perfect little homes with a perfect landscape, not a twig out of place. Electric lights, but no power poles. Next to a river that never floods!
Sitting under a giant old pine at 6800 feet looking down at white sands, “perfect” isn’t real. I’m starting to realize life isn’t about achieving a goal, or reaching a peak. It’s about finding joy. Often in the little things.