Other worlds are very much on my mind when I visit New Mexico, given its role in space history and space present. After all, it was here that space-faring rockets were tested, and where lunar landing modules received their significant test drives. And it is here that the Very Large Array does essential astronomical research, and it is here where space tourism will take off from the world’s first spaceport in the ominously named town of Truth or Consequences.

Still, I didn’t quite expect to feel immediately transported off the planet during my visit to New Mexico last week. But I could have been convinced that an abduction had taken place while I was at White Sands National Monument.

I’ve seen impressive sand dunes elsewhere, but nothing quite like this.

White Sands National Monument

 

What planet is this, exactly?

 

White Sands National Monument

 

Earth, of course, but covered in mountains and mountains of whiter-than-white gypsum sand.

Fun fact about this sand: it doesn’t get hot the way regular beach sand does. It was quite hot on the day of my visit — well over 90 degrees — and so I braced for a burn when I slid off my flip flops to march up the dunes.  But the sand was soft, slightly sticky (to the dismay of visiting children hoping to sled down the dunes) and actually quite cool.

Otherworldly, indeed.

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Alison J. Stein

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