Burning Gas-White Sands

In 1945 I remember seeing a full-page photo on the cover of the Chicago Times. It showed a giant mushroom cloud. The photo was of the first atom bomb explosion released by Uncle to the public. Ever since then, I have had a secret wish to visit the site where they tested the first A-bomb. I learned on an earlier trip to New Mexico that a group of physicists designed and built the bomb at a place called Los Alamos. The government built the lab as a top-secret project under the code name “Manhattan Project.” Under that moniker, Uncle secretly bought thousands of acres of land in New Mexico for building the atomic bomb.

There are volumes of books written about the development, and one can visit the Los Alamos Lab to see real life-size models of Fat Boy and Little Man, the two bombs they developed and eventually dropped on Hiroshima and  Nagasaki, Japan.

The first tests took place on a site two hundred miles south of Los Alamos, in the White Sand desert. It became a missile test site and remains so today.

Our visit to Alamogordo, New Mexico was to see the White Sands National Monument. White Sands Monument is not where the bomb first blew up, but is directly south of it by about a hundred miles. The terrain and the color of the sand is the same in both places.

We approached the monument from Alamogordo on highway US 70 and passed by Holloman Air Force base on the way. I read that this road is sometimes closed when Uncle tests missiles. I guess blowing up civilians passing through on the way to work is a possibility. Sure enough, I saw a sign along the way warning that road closures occur during missile tests. I also read that one should visit the monument in the evening at sunset to get the greatest visual impact. We did that. Seeing the sun set over these magnificently white sand dunes was spectacular. A line of cars clogged the gate. There were hundreds of people coming to watch the show. Many visitors, we learned, came to  picnic at one of the many shaded tables provided

It is hard to describe the beauty of the place. The road reminded me of driving in winter when there is deep snow and it is blowing and drifting all around. The difference being that we had the air conditioner set at seventy degrees in evening air that was still ninety degrees. Peggy and I stopped at several spots and got out to walk around. She was not up to dune climbing. I didn’t think the dunes were as high or as tough as the Sleeping Bear Dune in Michigan, but we enjoyed the views from the road. The sun was down and the light began getting dim, yet not many people were leaving.

The following morning we revisited the Monument to get the feel of bright sun, heat, and the whiteness. The many people of last evening were gone, and the dunes seemed lonely. My point and shoot camera with the digital display was useless in the brightness. I was literally pointing and shooting to take pictures without seeing what I had framed. Peggy stayed in the car because the heat was too intense as was the sun. The whiteness of the sand hurt my eyes even while wearing polarized sun glasses.

Later that evening, I discovered that Peggy had mistakenly double medicated herself in the morning and was not very much into the experience. Thank God I was not aware of it during the day.

We stayed for a couple of hours, I left the car running with the air for Peggy, and took photos from many points of interest, they all looked the same, white. I actually left the car in some of the pictures just to give some perspective. As we left, we made one more stop  and toured the visitors center.

The miles driven, and the gas burned to see White Sands Monument was well worth it. I rationalized that I was close enough to the A-bomb test sight to satisfy my secret wish and we left town by another route.

The story will continue.

In the meantime, please enjoy the photos.

White Sands National Monument at Sunset

White clouds, white sand dune, white road, brown grass

People Walking the Dunes

A Solitary Yucca Growing in the Morning Sun

Only the Strong Survive

The plant establishes a root system that digs deep. Then the wind removes the sand from around the roots leaving a cylinder of white sand as a post on which the plant lives.

Blue on White

A sand drifted road plowed, and looking like mid-western snow.

The Avalon Death Star in Blizzard White against White Sands.

A picnic area in the heat of the morning sun. The night before the tables were all filled with people.

A hardy stand of Yucca.

The White Sands National Monument Visitors Center with ocotillo just beginning to bloom.

Burning Gas-Where the Heck is Andrews, Texas?

Adapted from Wikipedia's TX county maps by Set...

Adapted from Wikipedia’s TX county maps by Seth Ilys. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next leg of our trip pointed us straight North. It was my intention to visit the Midland- Odessa area, but the hotels were very expensive. Midland is a famous oil industry town, and the place where George Bush senior had his business and George Jr, grew up. We found Andrews, Texas just thirty miles north of Midland with hotels from the same chain for one-third the price. We drove the extra thirty miles.

The population in Andrews is around sixteen thousand souls, but I couldn’t figure where in the world they lived. As is my habit, before we checked in, I drove down main street to search out an eating place. The town was very short and not very wide. Where are these people? I did spot a place called Joe’s Italian Restaurant and decided to come back there for the evening meal.

Aside from a myriad of Mexican fast food stands, Joe’s appeared the finest restaurant we could find. I made  reservations for dinner from the hotel. It turned out that Joe’s is a family restaurant with formica topped tables, vinyl covered booth seats, and a tile floor. It was large inside, and could easily seat a hundred people, but there were only a dozen people inside seated. Several large fans moved air around to cool us off. It was a hundred degrees outside, and eighty inside. We seated ourselves and ordered lasagna, and drinks. I asked the waitress if they served anything stronger than Pepsi, she looked at me questioningly. “Like wine or beer?”

“Oh no,” she laughed.

“Why not?”

“Sir, this is a dry county.”

“Oh my, do you mean I have to drive thirty miles back to Midland to get a drink?”

“Yes.”

“I guess I’ll have a diet Pepsi.”

While waiting for the meal to arrive, Peggy and I played swat the fly. The place was buzzing with flies, that had a mean disposition.

The waitress bought our meals on a tray. She used serving gloves to place the dishes in front of us.

“Be careful these plates are hot,” she warned.

We proceeded with caution to cut into the lasagna. I forked a piece and blew on it vigorously to cool it off. Finally, I built enough nerve to test it on my tongue. There is nothing worse than a burned tongue. It was surprisingly cool.

The plate was sizzling, the cheese on top melted and drippy hot, but the interior was cool. I kept eating. I wasn’t going to send it back after driving without eating all day.

The following morning on our way out of Andrews we found a neighborhood where people actually lived. In just a few minutes the town disappeared into the West Texas landscape. The land is flat and void of vegetation, and the Midland-Odessa skyline is visible from thirty miles away. Nearly every farmer leases his land to an oil company, and oil is being pumped into field-storage tanks. The cartoon in the preceding post shows a West Texas pickup truck. No kidding, there were dozens of semi-tankers emptying the field storage tanks as we drove through on a Monday morning.

The next leg of the journey took us across the border into New Mexico. I thought Texas had a lot of oil, but the real action is going on in eastern New Mexico. There are easily three times as many wells in New Mexico as there are in Texas.  Less than an hour into NM we passed through a refinery. Yes, the road passed right through the darn thing. I had visions of the Union 76 refinery in the town of Lemont near our home that just happens to blow up every ten years or so. I pressed hard on the throttle to get the heck out of there. It would be just my luck that a once in a lifetime explosion happens as we drive through.

The journey continues westward to Alamagordo.

The terrain along the Texas-New Mexico border.

Burning Gas-Alamo

The Alamo has been pulling me to visit since I read a biography of Davy Crockett in fourth grade. The Alamo began as the Mission San Antonio de Valero by the Roman Catholic missionaries from Spain. Founded in 1716 as part of a Spanish plan to Christianize Native Americans and colonize northern New Spain. By 1793 Spain dissolved the mission through the process of secularization.

Since then the Mission has provided housing for Mexican and Spanish troops, Indians, and squatters. It has been a hospital, a warehouse, jail, Masonic lodge, troop garrison, public park, movie set, and tourist attraction.

Around the 1800’s Spanish cavalry from the Mexican town of El Alamo set up shop in the mission and people began referring to it as “the Alamo.”

The Alamo is a symbol of liberty and a fight for independence. The Mexican army held a small band of Texans under siege in the Alamo. Badly outnumbered, The Texans lost the battle at the Alamo, but fought to the death trying to preserve their new country. The Republic of Texas formed in 1836 after defeating the Mexican army in the battle of San Jacinto.

Texans continue to revere the Alamo as a shrine to liberty, and that is what drew me to visit.

The Alamo is a short walk from the river walk, and is well worth taking the time to see it if you are there.

The Alamo, Mission San Antonio de Valero

Backside of the Alamo

Little known is the string of Spanish missions that extend northward. Five missions spaced about two miles apart existed to convert the Indians and to colonize for Spain around 1720. One of the nicest is Mission San Jose, just a few miles north of the Alamo on Mission Road. The church façade at San Jose has been restored to its original appearance. Five separate bodies control the mission: the City of San Antonio, the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, the State of Texas, the National Park Service, and the San Antonio Conservation Society. A park ranger explained that to keep a separation of church from state, the National Park Service owns and operates the property except for the church and the ground it stands on. It belongs to the Archdiocese of San Antonio. San Jose is an active parish church with a thriving congregation.

My photos don’t do justice to the beauty of this church.

Mission San Jose

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Impressions from West Texas

I learned a lot of new things while traveling in West Texas. First of all the scenery this time around was green not brown. A few years ago we traveled west Texas and saw nothing but brown and white. It was in January, and the terrain was void of any green. The white came from a raging blizzard that caused us to turn back. We spent a leisurely day touring the Buddy Holly museum in Lubbock.

This time, though, the grasses were green, the trees had leaves on them, and generally the weather was mild, a cloud cover made it cooler. The speed limit on Interstate-10 is eighty mph (128 kmph) at this point. I began noticing mile markers with six-hundred numbers on them. I quickly estimated  the distance across the state at this latitude is over a thousand miles (1600 kilometers). I set my speed control for seventy-five, but kept getting passed by Texans in a hurry. The most popular vehicle passing me was a Ford F250 with diesel power, and dual rear tires. All of them had a huge grill guard on the front. I thought about that for a minute and it finally sunk in. If you hit an animal at eighty you pretty much destroy your sixty thousand dollar truck. The grill guard may serve to splatter the animal and not the truck.  Judging by the speed of the traffic, most people have not been affected by the cost of gas or diesel fuel at $3.50 per gallon. My Avalon Deathstar was getting 35.4 mpg on this stretch of road. Gosh, if I had used Obama’s advice and inflated my tires a bit more, I might have had to empty my tank every couple of hundred miles.

Here are a couple of  impressions from that stretch of road.

West Texas Family Sedan

West Texas Pick Up Truck

I’ll bet you never thought of it that way!

Burning Gas-River Walk

A few weeks ago Peggy and I took an extended driving trip to points west. My eldest granddaughter was graduating from high school. She is my first, and I couldn’t miss that ceremony.  Dana moved to the Houston area with her parents a year ago. I should say her parents cruelly dragged her out of the Frankfort High School to live in Texas with them. She survived and thrived as did her siblings. They love Texas. She graduated in the top ten percent in a class of one thousand. Not bad, because that is where she was in her Frankfort school. I am so very proud of her, and look forward to more grandpa moments in the future. She is enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin. UT doesn’t understand what is about to hit them; this girl is taking over.

It took us two days to drive to the graduation and my sorry excuse for an ass cannot take those marathon drives anymore. Instead of squandering the driven miles on one event, Peggy and I decided to make something bigger out of it. I planned an even longer driving trip to visit some places I have never seen, and some that I haven’t seen for a long time. I’ll chronicle each place in separate posts.

We departed Houston with the Garmin set on San Antonio.  Nine years ago, I spent a winter in Phoenix and wanted to visit San Antonio on my way home. I tried to book a hotel on the River Walk to learn why San Antonians brag about it so much. I also wanted to visit the Alamo. Much to my surprise there wasn’t a room to be found anywhere in town on the dates I wanted. It turns out I wanted to pass through on the same week as the NCCA March Madness Basketball tournament was happening. San Antonio is a Regional playoff city and the hotels were full. I by passed San Antonio and scooted home instead.

Peggy and I stayed at the Holiday Inn on the River Walk. Most of the hotels in San Antonio are on the River, so it wouldn’t have mattered where we stayed. It was a short walk out of the hotel to the river. We were glad we visited. The River Walk is definitely a cool place to see. I was really impressed with the Venice like bridges and the gondolas taking people on tours. We took the gondola and were not sorry. It is a great way to see everything.  I can spill words all day long, but it is better to watch the video with my photos. The short movie will tell the story much better.

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