Getting Home: Gypsum, Saguaro and Surf


We headed home from Ruidoso along US-70 aiming for Tucson, Arizona, but took a stop early in the day at White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico.  White Sands is an interesting geological anomaly – rainfall and run-off from the nearby mountains has no place to drain.  In a wetter environment, these places would be a lake.  In the arid southwest, the water that does collect evaporates, leaving behind the salts that get carried down from erosion.  The overwhelming salt left behind here is calcium sulfate (monohydrate for the true nerds), more commonly known as gypsum.  Its probably in the drywall of your house.  Anyway, its an incredibly harsh landscape of gypsum dunes contrasted with blazingly bright skies.  You can drive in a few miles and walk around on the dunes – this is no fragile ecosystem – folks are encouraged to come, hike, toboggan – even picnic.  Very cool.


So, I wasn’t all that psyched to go to Tucson, but it was the right distance for us to make it back by a decent time on Saturday.  Mostly, because I’ve never been a big fan of Phoenix – it summarizes for me a lot that’s wrong with unchecked expansion and homogenization.  Tucson, maybe an hour and a half to the southeast of Phoenix couldn’t have been more different.  Clean, easy to drive in, and interesting I loved this town.  Its true jewel bracket the town on both the east and west, and that is Saguaro National Park.  Two separate groves (if that word applies) of these magnificent cacti can be driven around and hiked through.  The landscape is stark and unforgiving and incredibly beautiful.  I’ve always said that Sequoia National Park may be my favorite place to go, but Saguaro (the cacti can approach 200 years old) echoes that incredible beauty.  Where one is lush, the other barren – both are remarkable.  I’m not sure how gorgeous Saguaro NP would be when its 114 in the shade in summer (we had a beautiful blue-sky day in the 70s), but a local said in Tucson you can go out every day – you just have to change the time of day you do it.

After Tucson, the driving tour was pretty much over, and we gave up the side roads for the Interstates, following I-8 all the way back through Arizona and California to San Diego.  The only stop we made was at Dateland, a quirky exit in western Arizona that in the old days would be a one-horse town.  Now it’s a rest stop that focuses on dates – all different kinds of dates, its very fun.  Get the date-shake!

The Beloved’s dog Eutaw is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever of advanced age (she’s 14) and one of our goals has been to get her back to the ocean (there’s not a lot of great water retrieving in northern New Mexico), and so our first stop wasn’t home but Dog Beach in Del Mar.  Interestingly, even though she had been gone for several years Eutaw REMEMBERED the place as we pulled up and that great old dog started acting like a puppy.  We knew we made it back as we sent the retrieving bumper out into the surf just as the sun was starting to make its way down.  I couldn’t think of a better way to cap a journey of 1000 miles and a couple of years.

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7 thoughts on “Getting Home: Gypsum, Saguaro and Surf

  1. Did you actually have the date-shake? When I stopped in Dateland a few years ago on I told people to get the date-shake but never actually had one. Was it good? I imagine it would be, I forget why I didn't get one. Did you pass by The Thing?! when in NM or AZ? I don't remember which one it was in, I remember it was in Texas Canyon but it was near NM/AZ border. It's a rest stop with a Dairy Queen and what they call a "museum" which even though it was only $1 was still too much for admission.

  2. Your photos are magnificent! My family vacationed in New Mexico when I was 16. It was my favorite trip. We saw Lincoln, N. M. where Billy the kid and Pat Garrett lived; Carlsbad Caverns were absolutely beautiful and Ruodosa was so wonderful and green. Such contrasts in that state. We went on into Colorado Springs, Pike's Peak; the scenery was really breathtaking. I loved that trip, but I always love coming home to my beautiful Arkansas, too.

  3. We DID get the date-shakes! I thought it was great — might have been too sweet for her, but I really liked it. Great break in a long drive.
    And we stopped at "The Thing" too! I tend to embrace the whole roadside schtick, but when we saw that it looked like a couple of painted garages we also took a pass on going in!

  4. Pianocat — thanks!! :D I love that part of the country and never had a real appreciation of it. We never made it down to Carlsbad, but have definitely put that on the list of long-weekend trips.

  5. Wonderful story. For some reason, when you started talking about Dateland and all sorts of dates, I was thinking calendar-type dates. I imagined a whole town covered with signs and timelines and historical re-enactments of foreign events from various different dates in history.Obviously, references to a date shake were confusing to me as well. I pictured a plastic cup emblazoned with numbers like "1492" and "1776" in bold, bright colors, with little candy numbers mixed into the ice-cream before it was blended.Now that I'm set straight…it actually seems a bit of a let-down. :-)

  6. Aw! Thanks for linking this oldie-but-goodie!

    Bobby (being a lab-mix rescue) is INSANE for water. Since we have ponds, he swims, even when it’s below freezing (so long as he can break through the ice). When I say he swims, he perhaps jumps in and does laps (he likes to swim in circles, rather than across and back) easily 50 times a day. Every time you see him, he’s damp on bottom if not the whole body.

    I’ve been to Arizona (Phoenix up to the high country) and while Saguaros are impressive to see in person, I didn’t care for the landscape around Phoenix (let alone the “city” don’t get me started–ick). I’d never been to a desert before and I guess being Ozark Mountain bred, I prefer the hills. I’ve visited oceans a few places (around the UK, La Baule, Cote Sauvage, St. Malo, Waikiki, Stinton and Muir) and *love* them but I prefer hills and mountains…

    NoCal is a good compromise for Bobby and me. :)

    • Penny’s learning to like the water — or at least not FEAR the water as when she was first a pup.

      I really dislike Phoenix — it’s everything that’s wrong with having a sprawling city in the desert southwest. At least in Vegas, I can gamble… ;) I liked Tucson a LOT more than Phoenix. It actually reminded me a of San Diego, without the beach.

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