Lost in the Sun, November 2010

"Blue hour" light at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

• The Road from Oklahoma to New Mexico

Restaurant sign, Vaughn, New Mexico, at dusk. My father's name was Joseph.
Restaurant sign, Vaughn, New Mexico, at dusk. My father’s name was Joseph.

I had my usual send-off breakfast with Abby.

Fair weather and good roads but a late start put me in the loneliest part of New Mexico after sunset. I saw a jackrabbit and a dozen or more deer, and stopped only a couple of times to shoot a sign or two.

• Alamogordo area

I hiked the Dog Canyon trail at Oliver Lee State Park. The trail leaves the park and enters Lincoln National Forest after a third of a mile, and ascends the classic Chihuahuan Desert slopes of the Sacramento Mountains south of Alamogordo, New Mexico. I followed the trail about halfway, until I was satisfied I’d had a good look at it, and felt I was running out of time.

Sound from fighter jets at Holloman Air Force Base to the north absolutely filled the air.

Found and bought some New Mexico grown pistachios, along with some New Mexico wine.

Fisheye view of the sundial at the National Solar Observatory's Sacramento Peak facility in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Fisheye view of the sundial at the National Solar Observatory’s Sacramento Peak facility in Sunspot, New Mexico.

Drove the winding, rustic U. S. 82 into the Sacramento Mountains, where I turned south at Cloudcroft on the road to the National Solar Observatory. It was quiet and a little chilly at the 9200-foot Sacramento Peak. The short walking tour of the telescopes was nice and made a few pictures.

Made it down to White Sands National Monument by about 2:30. I hiked around for a little while, but the light was grey and shadowless. I decided to attemd the 4 pm ranger-guided Sunset Stroll, which was kinda fun. The clouds finally broke and the sunset imaging was satisfying.

An excellent "golden moment" photo op at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.
An excellent “golden moment” photo op at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

• Alamogordo to Silver City, New Mexico

The White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park features examples of some of the missiles that were developed and tested at the range.
The White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park features examples of some of the missiles that were developed and tested at the range.

Early breakfast, then hit the road west. My first stop was the White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park. Despite a cold wind, I had beautiful sunshine and good light, and the visit was both interesting and photogenic.

Stopped at huge checkpoint west of Las Cruces, where I was asked to show ID and if I were a U. S. citizen, which I am. The vehicle in front of mine was detained.

Continued west though Las Cruces and Deming to Lordsburg, where I learned that the Shakespeare Ghost Town was on its winter schedule, and was closed today. It was only a half hour out of my way, but still annoying.

I turned north and drove a spookily lonely stretch of New Mexico state highway 90 to Silver City, where I had a bite of lunch, then drove down to City of Rocks State Park about 30 miles southeast of Silver City. On the internet it always seemed like it would be fun to explore, but today I discovered it could be aptly renamed Richard Barron’s Playground. I started with the 3.25-mile hike that circumnavigates the park, which cut through a beautiful open slice of Chihuahuan desert. Then as sunset approached, I dove into the heart of the boulder field, climbing and leaping and hiking and making tons of images as I went. I stayed past the golden hour, then returned to Silver City for the night.

Last light at City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico.
Last light at City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico.

• Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Blackened grass and backlit smoke, prescribed burn, Gila National Forest, New Mexico.
Blackened grass and backlit smoke, prescribed burn, Gila National Forest, New Mexico.

The 44-mile drive from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was both challenging and stressful, since much of the southern end of the route is very narrow, with dozens of tight turns and elevation changes, and no centerline. I saw some mule deer on the way up, then on the way back I was able to photograph dense smoke from a prescribed burn going on just to the west.

The Monument was sparsely attended; I saw about 10 other people, including rangers. I met a nice volunteer at the dwellings themselves, and she and I had a nice chat while she waited for other visitors. I made some fairly decent images, but nothing I thought was spectacular.

On the way out, I hiked a Forest Service trail into the Gila Wilderness Area, maybe a mile and a half, just because I didn’t feel like I’d had my fill of hiking. The afternoon was cool and clear.

Mogollon masonry in the largest of the dwellings at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico.
Mogollon masonry in the largest of the dwellings at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico.

• Silver City to Santa Rosa via the Catwalk and the VLA

The heart of "The Catwalk," a trail that follows Whitewater Creek through narrows. The Catwalk itself was originally constructed by silver miners.
The heart of “The Catwalk,” a trail that follows Whitewater Creek through narrows.

Drove northwest out of Silver City toward a landmark I saw in a local travel guide called “The Catwalk.” The road to it, like all the roads in southwest New Mexico, was eerily lonely.

Near the town of Glenwood, The Catwalk trail proved to be a big surprise for the day. At the trail head, I learned that it was Veterans Day (which I guess I already knew), so there was no fee. The trail follows Whitewater Creek for a little more than a mile, along a path originally created by gold miners in the 1890s. In several spots where the canyon narrows, the trail continues on steel catwalks, one long, complex one, and several others as needed, all anchored where the miners anchored their aquaducts. The creek also featured rushing rapids and abundant fall foliage.

Continued east, stopping at the Very Large Array near Magdalena, which I hadn’t seen in ten years. The configuration (the location of the dish antennas along the “Y” of the array) wasn’t the perfect one for pictures. (It was in the “B” configuration for anyone interested). Still, some spooky-ish clouds helped it make a few nice images. By nightfall I was in Socorro for dinner, then drove to Santa Rosa for the night.

Radio telescope antennas of the Very Large Array, Magdalena, New Mexico. The VLA is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
Radio telescope antennas of the Very Large Array, Magdalena, New Mexico. The VLA is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

• Driving home

Snow at a rest area near the Llano Estacado escarpment in the Texas Panhandle.
Snow at a rest area near the Llano Estacado escarpment in the Texas Panhandle.

Cold and grey in Santa Rosa when I left. By the Texas line there was snow on the ground, which I stopped to photograph.

Happy to be home around 6 pm, where Abby was happy I was home.

Additional images:

Sign at the historic Conoco Tower in Shamrock, Texas.
Sign at the historic Conoco Tower in Shamrock, Texas.
Looking south at Dog Canyon, Oliver Lee State Park, New Mexico.
Looking south at Dog Canyon, Oliver Lee State Park, New Mexico.
Abby and I think this yucca looks like the iconic dancing flute player Kokopelli.
Abby and I think this yucca looks like the iconic dancing flute player Kokopelli.
Ants cross the trail at Dog Canyon.
Ants cross the trail at Dog Canyon.
This view looking west shows White Sands and the San Andres Mountains in the distance.
This view looking west shows the valley where White Sands is located, and the San Andres Mountains in the distance.
Posing in Dog Canyon, wearing my Ada Cougars ball cap.
Posing in Dog Canyon, wearing my Ada Cougars ball cap.
Apple Barn mascot in a small town in the Sacramento Mountains, possibly the weirdest sight I saw on this trip.
Apple Barn mascot in Mountain Park, New Mexico, in the Sacramento Mountains; this 20-foot fiberglass statue was possibly the weirdest sight I saw on this trip.
Fisheye view of the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope, a unique vertical-axis solar telescope, located at the National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico.
Fisheye view of the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope, a unique vertical-axis solar telescope, located at the National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico.
This retired solar telescope was on display at the NSO; it once served in Antarctica.
This retired solar telescope was on display at the NSO; it once served in Antarctica.
Steps leading up the Hilltop Dome telescope facility.
Steps leading up the Hilltop Dome telescope facility.
Ruby red leaves and cobalt skies greeted me on Sacramento Peak; this spot was chosen for its abundant clear weather for solar observation.
Ruby red leaves and cobalt skies greeted me on Sacramento Peak; this spot was chosen for its abundant clear weather for solar observation.
Rudolph crossing sign, U. S. 82 east of Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Rudolph crossing sign, U. S. 82 east of Alamogordo, New Mexico.
By mid-afternoon, I was at White Sands National Monument, but was vexed by soft light and haze, seen in this image.
By mid-afternoon, I was at White Sands National Monument, but was vexed by soft light and haze, seen in this image.
As evening approached, however, the sky opened up and gave me beautiful, warm golden hour light, then beautiful blue hour light.
As evening approached, however, the sky opened up and gave me beautiful, warm golden hour light, then beautiful blue hour light.
Skunkbush Sumac at White Sands National Monument; I nicknamed this one "The Spaghetti Monster."
Skunkbush Sumac at White Sands National Monument; I nicknamed this one “The Spaghetti Monster.”
Branch and tree, sunset, White Sands.
Branch and tree, sunset, White Sands.
Sunset, White Sands.
Sunset, White Sands.
Soaptree yucca and sky, sunset, White Sands.
Soaptree yucca and sky, sunset, White Sands.
Soaptree yucca and sky at last light, White Sands.
Soaptree yucca and sky at last light, White Sands.
Soaptree yucca and sky at last light, White Sands.
Soaptree yucca, last light, White Sands.
Most of this cottonwood tree is buried beneath a sand dune; the ranger pointed out that this was the easiest way to climb a 35-foot tall tree.
Most of this cottonwood tree is buried beneath a sand dune; the ranger pointed out that this was the easiest way to climb a 35-foot tall tree.
Soaptree yucca in the blue hour light after sunset at White Sands.
Soaptree yucca in the blue hour light after sunset at White Sands.
Waining light at White Sands.
Waining light at White Sands.
Looking east toward the Sacramento Mountains, where I visited earlier in the day.
Looking east toward the Sacramento Mountains, where I visited earlier in the day.
The last blue hour light graces this soaptree yucca at White Sands.
The last blue hour light graces this soaptree yucca at White Sands.
White Sands Missile Park at the entrance to White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
White Sands Missile Park at the entrance to White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
Looking into the breech of the XM-198 Howitzer.
Looking into the breech of the XM-198 Howitzer.
The Pepp Aeroshell; This vehicle was used to test the parachute NASA planned to use to "soft land" the Viking on Mars. With vehicles like this being tested at White Sands, it's little wonder stories of "flying saucers" proliferated.
The Pepp Aeroshell; this vehicle was used to test the parachute NASA planned to use to “soft land” the Viking spacecraft on Mars. With vehicles like this being tested at White Sands, it’s little wonder stories of “flying saucers” proliferated.
The Nike Hercules missile profiled against a turbulent morning sky.
The Nike Hercules missile profiled against a turbulent morning sky.
New Mexico highway 90 southwest of Silver City; this was a very spooky stretch of road.
New Mexico highway 90 southwest of Silver City; this was a very spooky stretch of road.
Yucca and sky, City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico; I had this 3.5-mile trail entirely to myself.
Yucca and sky, City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico; I had this 3.5-mile trail entirely to myself.
City of Rocks viewed from the west.
City of Rocks viewed from the west.
Nearing the southern end of the loop trail around City of Rocks.
Nearing the southern end of the loop trail around City of Rocks.
Formation on the south end of City of Rocks.
Formation on the south end of City of Rocks.
Grass and stone, late afternoon light, City of Rocks.
Grass and stone, late afternoon light, City of Rocks.
Stone and sky, late afternoon, City of Rocks.
Stone and sky, late afternoon, City of Rocks.
The trail cuts through the heart of the City.
The trail cuts through the heart of the City.
A tree casts a shadow on stone as sunset approaches.
A tree casts a shadow on stone as sunset approaches.
This view looks north from near the center of the City.
This view looks north from near the center of the City.
Posing under a shelf of rock at City of Rocks, near the end of my adventure there.
Posing under a shelf of rock at City of Rocks, near the end of my adventure there.
Tree in crack, City of Rocks.
Tree in crack, City of Rocks.
Maturing light on the City.
Maturing light on the City.
The Golden Hour arrives on the southern edge of City of Rocks.
The Golden Hour arrives on the southern edge of City of Rocks.
Another image of City of Rocks at last light.
Another image of City of Rocks at last light.
Sunset, City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico.
Sunset, City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico.
Trail, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico.
Trail, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico.
High dynamic range image looking up at the cliff dwellings.
High dynamic range image looking up at the cliff dwellings.
View inside one of the alcoves showing stairs, dwellings, and storage areas.
View inside one of the alcoves showing stairs, dwellings, and storage areas.
Another view of the interior of the cliff dwellings.
Another view of the interior of the cliff dwellings.
Fisheye view showing large cave opening and canyon at Gila.
Fisheye view showing large cave opening and canyon at Gila.
Stream, Gila National Forest, New Mexico; the water was extremely cold.
Stream, Gila National Forest, New Mexico; the water was extremely cold.
This prickly pear cactus appeared to have some disease process occurring, but park rangers couldn't agree on exactly what.
This prickly pear cactus appeared to have some disease process occurring, but park rangers couldn’t agree on exactly what.
Flowering cactus outside the Gila Cliff Dwellings visitor center.
Flowering cactus outside the Gila Cliff Dwellings visitor center.
Mogollon Mountains and Gila National Forest from the Copperas overlook on New Mexico state highway 15 south of Gila.
Mogollon Mountains and Gila National Forest from the Copperas overlook on New Mexico state highway 15 south of Gila.
Prescribed burn in the Piños Altos Mountains north of Silver City, New Mexico.
Prescribed burn in the Gila National Forest, Piños Altos Mountains, north of Silver City, New Mexico.
Mogollon Mountains northwest of Silver City, New Mexico.
Mogollon Mountains northwest of Silver City, New Mexico.
The Catwalk is close to the town of Glenwood, New Mexico, and follows Whitewater Creek for a little over a mile.
The Catwalk trail is close to the town of Glenwood, New Mexico, and follows Whitewater Creek for a little over a mile.
The name "Catwalk" comes from this, a steel catwalk constructed in a long section of narrows on the creek. However, it is not the only catwalk on the hike.
The name “Catwalk” comes from this, a steel catwalk constructed in a long section of narrows on the creek. However, it is not the only catwalk on the hike.
This image helps emphasize the feel of the narrows; tourist brochures fail to capture this.
This image helps emphasize the feel of the narrows; tourist brochures fail to capture this.
The reinforced steel of the Catwalk makes it feel nearly as solid as walking on land.
The reinforced steel of the Catwalk makes it feel nearly as solid as walking on land.
This view looks down on the main landing of the Catwalk itself, which features signs describing the construction and history of the place.
This view looks down on the main landing of the Catwalk itself, which features signs describing the construction and history of the place.
Whitewater Creek flows past a huge, mangled stump.
Whitewater Creek flows past a huge, mangled stump.
The trail continues up Whitewater Creek, leading to several short downclimbs to the creek itself.
The trail continues up Whitewater Creek, leading to several short downclimbs to the creek itself.
Excellent autumn foliage abounded.
Excellent autumn foliage abounded.
This steep steel staircase led down to a small waterfall and pool.
This steep steel staircase led down to a small waterfall and pool.
Waterfall and pool, Whitewater Creek.
Waterfall and pool, Whitewater Creek.
Whitewater Creek flows near a small waterfall. I was fortunate to be there in the morning, since midday light would be too harsh for images like this.
Whitewater Creek flows near the waterfall. I was fortunate to be there in the morning, since midday light would be too harsh for images like this.
More beautiful foliage on the trail.
More beautiful foliage on the trail.
Water and cliff, Whitewater Creek.
Water and cliff, Whitewater Creek.
Near the top of the trail is this excellent swinging bridge. (Photo by Dorothy A. Inglis)
Near the top of the trail is this excellent swinging bridge. (Photo by Dorothy A. Inglis)
The trail ends at this overhanging rock formation.
The trail ends at this overhanging rock formation.
View of the swinging bridge looking back downcanyon.
View of the swinging bridge looking back downcanyon.
The Very Large Array, Magdalena, New Mexico. This was my third time to visit the VLA.
The Very Large Array, Magdalena, New Mexico. This was my third time to visit the VLA. I stopped on this occasion because it was on my route back to Oklahoma.
This is the southeast arm of the "Y"-shaped VLA layout, seen from the road that leads to the visitor center. You can also see part of the train tracks that are used to move the dishes to reconfigure the array.
This is the southeast arm of the “Y”-shaped VLA layout, seen from the road that leads to the visitor center. You can also see part of the train tracks that are used to move the dishes to reconfigure the array.
Tight shot showing some of the dishes of the VLA. It was very cold and very windy on this day.
Tight shot showing some of the dishes of the VLA visible from the short walking trail at the visitor center. It was very cold and very windy on this day.
VLA antennas; the light and clouds cooperated just long enough that I was able to make some interesting images. It was a good way to end my trip.
VLA antennas; the light and clouds cooperated just long enough that I was able to make some interesting images. It was a good way to end my trip.