White Sands National Monument and Oliver Lee State Park (New Mexico)


Cheers to the end of a beautiful adventure.  The very last bit of my southwest exploration included White Sands National Monument and the neighboring Oliver Lee State Park (where I stayed).  It was a beautiful warm evening and I knew I wanted to sit on a dune and watch the sun go down.

At the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies a mountain-ringed valley, the Tularosa Basin.  Rising from the heart of this basin is the glistening white sands of New Mexico.  These sand dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of desert creating the largest gypsum dune field in the world.  The dunes are next to the White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Airforce Base outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

There is not much to say about how beautiful this place is so I will let the photos do the talking.

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Lola my mobile home

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noodle time

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At sunset I parked my ass on top of a dune and listened to some guy a few dunes over play the guitar.  It was like something out of a fairy tale.

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glory rays

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stranger danger (I eventually got them this photo)

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After the sun kissed the sky goodbye I headed back to Oliver Lee State Park to pass out in trunk bed.

Driving into Oliver Lee I saw some super greasy hitchhikers and then some meth houses.  The park was deep enough in the canyon that I felt the chances of robbery or attack were minimal.  Still, the surrounding area did not feel that safe.

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I stopped and investigated an abandon meth house, it was gnarly.

I decided to hike Dog Canyon early in the morning before hitting the road for the long push home.


The entire Dog Canyon trail is 5.5 miles one way and climbs over 3,100 feet to Forest Road 90.  This would have been fun to do but my legs were dead, so I settled on an out and back to Line Cabin (6 miles/1,700 feet of gain nonetheless).

Because of the spring fed stream in the canyon, native people moved from the Tularosa Basin into the Sacramento Mountains using this trail for thousands of years.  The canyon was the site of several skirmishes between the US Cavalry and Apaches between 1850 and 1881.  After the settlers arrived, the trail was used to move cattle from winter basin pastures to spring and summer pastures in the canyon and on the ridge top.  The ruin of the Fairchild Line Cabin is a landmark at the box-end of the canyon.

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Even at 6:30 a.m. the temperatures pushed 85 degrees in the shade.

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The trail initially climbs 600 feet in .6 miles to the first bench which plateaus.  At 1.9 miles the trail climbs once again to the second bench and the typical desert shrubbery changes to lush grass with scattered alligator juniper.

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From the second bench the trail descends back into the canyon to the Fairchild Line Cabin.  Large juniper and cottonwood dominate the stream side habitat.  This riparian zone is beautiful and delicate.  There are some nice camp spots here.

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Here is where I turned around, headed back to my car, and drove back to Golden.

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Summary, Conclusion, and Advice:

I had an absolutely beautiful adventure.  I drove 1,786 miles in 16 days, explored two states, 2 national parks, 3 national monuments, 4 state parks, countless mountains ranges, and 4 new cities.  The bed I engineered in my car and all the small details I installed worked perfectly.  There are only a few minor tweaks I will make to the curtains and initially I will bring less food with me (on my big trip).

I had reserves about traveling and climbing alone.  I had reserves about whether or not I could actually live in such a small space.  I had reserves about doing ALL the driving myself, I had reserves about getting lonely, but….my father and I have a saying, “imagining what it might be like is a poor substitute for actually knowing.”  It is healthy and necessary to have a certain amount of fear (it is what keeps us alive), it is restrictive and sad to let it prevent an incredible life experience.

I found it difficult to return home but I have so much traveling ahead of me, not only this summer, but for the rest of my life.  I blog because it’s a way to relive the beautiful places I go and because it allows my family and friends a rare glimpse into the life I lead.  I do not wish to make a career of it.  This trip opened my eyes to the kind of job I DO want.  By earning a masters degree in Biochemical engineering from Colorado School of Mines and being single and without children (I never want them), I have opened the door to so many future possibilities.  I have the ability to say yes to a lot of opportunities most don’t.  I see myself as a traveling engineer working in the renewable energy or Bio-plastic field jumping from country to country, project to project.

Society puts a lot of pressure on humans (especially women) to get married and have children, but for a select few the “American dream” seems more like a nightmare (nothing against those who find happiness in marriage and kids).  People often assume I am defective because I choose to distance myself from red-flag relationships and because I don’t want to birth and raise another human.  And for a minute there, I was starting to think maybe I was.  The open road, the mountains, and the trails have a way of showing you truth.  I am exactly where I should be and I am honestly happy.

Simply put, this journey made me see that I could never exist in one place doing one thing.

What is the killer of adventure and romance?  Monotony and commitment.

If there is something you want to do, do it, right now.  There is no guarantee of tomorrow.

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“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water.  She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs.  ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against.  Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.”


White Sands National Monument and Oliver Lee State Park (New Mexico) — 9 Comments

  1. Awesome photos! White Sands looks so refreshing and peaceful.
    You have an admirable and beautiful vision for your life. Much respect.

    “Wander a whole summer if you can.
    Time will not be taken from the sum of life.
    Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it
    and make you truly immortal.” -John Muir

  2. I’ve absolutely loved reading your stuff. I found you through 14ers.com, and just kind of went along for the ride with you. 2 things:

    What is the killer of adventure and romance? Monotony and commitment.

    There is a lot of truth to this. As someone that thrives on stability, getting to live vicariously through you these last few weeks has been refreshing and sobering. I want to make a huge change in my (and my family’s) life. The above quote, and this one…

    “imagining what it might be like is a poor substitute for actually knowing.” …is powerful and it seems like they were written directly to me. The next few months will be interesting for me.

    Anyways, I just wanted you to know that your adventure touched other people, even those that you don’t know and whose road you likely would never intersect were it not for the interwebs. I hope you continue blogging. I look forward to seeing where you grow from here.

    • Kenny,
      Your words are incredibly kind. It’s funny, may father said I may catch some flack for my honestly in my last few paragraphs. But I told him, if I could touch just one person out there I would be happy. Looks like I did ( :

  3. Flak? I wanted to shout “Amen, sister!” at that last paragraph! I’ve caught alot of flak for being honest over the years and I don’t get it—we’ve got one life–we’ve got to speak our truth, even if that means we don’t fit what society perceives as proper. Good for you for realizing your truth early on! I grew up in Connecticut and almost went down that path: fire department job in my hometown(stable with 25 years to retirement and a pension), getting ready to marry and produce some babies. It just didn’t feel right. I spent downtime at work looking across the street from the firehouse to the high school I attended dreaming of-something else. Then I read Aron Ralston’s book. It was his descriptions of climbing 14ers in winter that got to me. I had never climbed a mountain or been to Colorado but I knew I had to go. I got my nursing degree, moved here without knowing a soul to a mad chorus of voices saying I was either brave or crazy, and began my life for real.
    I adventure solo alot too and hear the usual worries from friends and coworkers. Can’t let life fly by while I’m waiting for hiking partners who don’t want to get up before 7am or getting caught up in the drama of a relationship where the dude is insecure because I do what I do. My epiphany came at 38 and I’ve been here 10 years. I love my out of the ordinary life. I’m going to be one of those 80 year old ladies climbing the high peaks and I look forward to every second!
    Know this was long but feel a kindred spirit would understand!! Keep doing what you’re doing and I look forward to more adventures! Nice job on Mt. Washington!

    • Lee, you probably read my comment above. Just guess what I do right now for a living.

      Just guess what degree program I am likely starting in the fall.

      Did you actually go to class for your BSN or was it online?

      • Kenny–
        You’re kidding me!!
        If you’re actually a firefighter going for nursing, can’t believe I’m not the only one crazy enough to do it!! I miss the comraderie for sure but I gained so much in return. You can go anywhere with a nursing degree and if one specialty doesn’t suit you, change it up. Working three days a week has its perks, too. I went to a local college in Connecticut for my BSN. It was a second degree program so took 16 months. I was a paramedic too so found it relatively easy. Scary to make the leap but the rewards are endless!!! Good luck!!!!!

  4. Just wanted to let y’all know…I start finishing up my BSN in August, it will take about 3 years. Anyways, your quotes that I was writing about in my first comment (and your entire trip in general)are THE catalyst for getting my butt in gear. I’ve always had “the plan”, but realistically it was just a pipe dream. Now I’m doing it.

    Thank you.

  5. Halfpint,

    I stumbled across your blog via 14ers.com. I really enjoyed reading of your exploits through Guadalupe, El Paso, and the Organ Mountains. Though I’ve traveled some of these areas, did not get to do any hiking or climbing. But after reading your blog, I was inspired – hope to at least visit Guadalupe for some climbing. Your writing style is engaging, honest, and very humorous. Keep up the good work and keep on with your awesome adventures! JS

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