Fort Selden and White Sands

Yesterday (Sunday) we spent most of the day exploring some of the sights around our campground near Las Cruces, New Mexico. It was a beautiful, partly cloudy day with high temperatures in the low 70’s–perfect for getting outside in the sun and fresh air.

After having breakfast and cleaning up the dishes, we took the short drive of less than two miles over to the Fort Selden Historic Site. The fort was established in 1865 to provide protection from Native American raids and general lawlessness in the area. About 1800 soldiers served at Fort Selden during its years of operation, until it was officially closed in January 1891. I found it ironic that more soldiers died at the fort at the hands of other soldiers or local outlaws than from the Native Americans.

Fort Selden Historic Site, Radium Springs, NM

The structures at the fort were built primarily of adobe and wood, although the jail was constructed of stone. When the fort was finally abandoned, most of the wood from the roofs and door/window frames was removed for re-use, leaving only the adobe material in place. Over the years, the wind and rain have relentlessly eroded the adobe walls until just enough remains to fuel the imagination as to what the fort must have looked like.

Andy sitting outside what was once the fort jail

There is a nice Visitor Center at the entrance to the site, and there is a $5/person entry fee. The tour starts with a short 9-minute video that gives the history of the fort, and then there is a small museum with exhibits describing what life was like for the men, women and children who occupied the fort during its time of operation.

After touring the museum, we went outside where we followed a numbered, self-guided tour of the fort ruins. It was pretty small as forts go, so the tour didn’t take that long to complete. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit of information we discovered during our visit was that General Douglas MacArthur lived at Fort Selden for several years as a small child when his father, Captain Arthur MacArthur, was posted there.

Douglas MacArthur and his family lived at the fort when he was a child

We finished the tour shortly before noon and returned to the rig for a quick lunch. As soon as the lunch dishes were done, we headed out on our next adventure of the day.

We drove for just a little over an hour to visit White Sands National Monument, between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, NM. Interestingly, the Monument is located within the boundaries of the White Sands Missile Range, and several times a week the Monument, along with Highway 70, is closed for several hours for missile testing. Fortunately, we timed our visit pretty well so we didn’t get turned away.

The White Sands dunefield covers 275 square miles, and is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Gypsum is the material used to make drywall and plaster. The National Monument preserves more than half of the dunefield, its water supply, and the plants and animals that live there.

White Sands National Monument Visitor Center

We started our tour at the Visitor’s Center where I purchased a National Parks passport book so I can start collecting the stamps from parks that we’ll be visiting on our travels. There was a small museum that we browsed through until time to enter the theater to view a short film about the dunefield and its inhabitants. After the film was over we strolled through the gift shop, but didn’t buy anything (typical gift shop junk, although there were some cool t-shirts).

From that point, it was a driving tour through the dunes, with numerous pull-offs for hiking, picnicking, sledding, or just wandering around. There was a fee station at the entrance (I believe it was $30/vehicle, but we used Andy’s lifetime senior pass that he paid $10 for, and got in free).

The outer perimeter of the dunefield has more vegetation

Our first stop was a hiking trail near the edge of the dune field where there is more vegetation and animal life. The trail was a 1-mile loop over the dunes and was marked with tall blue poles along with interpretive signs. It was so interesting to see how the sands are continually shifting, because some of the signposts were already starting to get buried. I’m sure it’s a constant maintenance task to keep the trails well-marked when the landscape keeps shifting.

Andy checking out one of the interpretive signs in the dunes

After completing the hike, we drove further into the dunes to where there was almost no vegetation. About that same time, the sun started to come out from behind the clouds, and the dunes just lit up in this brilliant white against the blue sky. It was gorgeous!

Heart of the Dunes

We got out of the truck a couple more times to walk on the sand and to watch some of the young people sliding down the dunes on the round sleds that they sold in the gift shop. The kids were having a blast! We also saw a lot of photographers setting up for some sunset pictures, and there was also a group of women who were obviously models being photographed on top of one of the dunes–I mean, who else would be on top of a sand dune in a long, flowing red dress?

The sand itself is extremely soft, almost like talcum and not like the gritty sand on the beach. Also, it tends to hold water, so it was cool to walk on even when the sun was shining on it, and it’s still moist just under the surface.

Andy on the dunes

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the White Sands National Monument, and highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area. We got back to the rig a little after 5:00, cooked and ate dinner, and called it an early evening.

Today is our last full day here in Leasburg Dam State Park. The weather has turned much cooler due to a cold front that’s moving through most of the country right now. We’ve spent a good portion of the day getting things ready to travel tomorrow–dumping the tanks, checking the tire pressure and fluid levels, charging up the walkie-talkies, for instance. I also reorganized the attic (the storage area over the cab) to make better use of the space.

We plan to pull out of here around 10:00 AM tomorrow morning to drive to Albuquerque. Travel days are not my favorite, but it will be fun to see some new scenery and check out Santa Fe for my birthday on Wednesday.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram for updates between the blog posts! And if you have any questions about our life on the road, please leave a comment and we’ll try to answer in a future post!

2 thoughts on “Fort Selden and White Sands

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