All things aside in the seediest hotel ever, we slept well, everything was clean, and everything worked. Although, the continental breakfast was served in a dirty, dingy room, with no less than four signs reminding ne'er-do-wells that food was not to be removed from the "banquet room" and that breakfast was only for guests of the hotel. This must have been a particular problem for this hotel. We had a breakfast of self-cook, self-serve waffles and concentrated orange juice. We skipped the "fruit salad" that was swimming in some unidentifiable orange liquid. I had five plates of said breakfast, seeing as how the plates were roughly the size of silver dollars. The desk clerk did come in toward the end of our meal and apologize for the lack of larger plates and offered us the torn off half of a large Styrofoam to-go container the he was trying to pass off as said larger plate. We declined and finished the final three pygmy plates of breakfast, which was actually quite good.
Then we were off! We had a very long driving day today, but it was entertaining due to the continuation of Duma Key (So far so good) and more David Sedaris (When You Are Engulfed in Flames) and the rapidly changing scenery. It is incredible how you can be driving along this amazingly clear, flat, and fairly nondescript desert and suddenly; BAM, you are in between 100 foot tall foothills. The driving was incredible through the closest thing to mountains we have driven through. Over the course of about 50 miles or so we went from 3500 feet above sea level to 8500 feet in Cloudcroft New Mexico, and back to about 4300 feet in Alamogordo NM.
On the backside of that mountain drive we stopped in the Lincoln National Forrest at an amazing overlook of White Sands national monument. There was a hiking trail down to the river and we decided to go for it. The trail was steep! It was maybe 60-100 feet down, and in parts there was more climbing than hiking. We made it down in high spirits with no problem. Feelin' fine. Then we started up. Yikes high altitude mixed with doing physical work suuuuuuuuuuucks. I should like, work out and junk. We finally made it without throwing up, barely. Then on to White Sands!
I didn't mention this yesterday, but the admission to Carlsbad Caverns was free this past weekend. Score! Since, on a whim we decided to go to the Caverns a day early we got to take advantage of this. I mention it because, for whatever reason there was no charge for admission to White Sands today either. We pulled to the booth where you pay admission and there was a sign that said: "this station is closed, please continue on". So we pressed on valiantly and drove into the park. It is phenomenal, and indescribable. You are once again in this mostly green and tan scrubby desert with low, rolling dunes and amazing mountains in the background, and suddenly you find yourself driving through crystal white sand dunes between six and twenty feet high that are almost bare of any vegetation in most places. You drive into this amazing anomaly for miles and find that you are ages from anything resembling civilization and the sand stretches forever. It is amazingly serene and beautiful. The silence is shocking. You can climb to the top of the tall dunes and jump with all of your might landing safely, or semi-safely in powder soft sand and tumble to the bottom. It is a blast. We sat and enjoyed the incredible scenery and caught our breath on the top of a twenty foot dune. It was breath-taking, and we took a moment to enjoy how awesome this trip is.
Then back on the road with more amazing scenery and lots of driving. About 150 miles before the Arizona border we started seeing signs for a gas station that advertised "The Thing" describing it as the mystery of Arizona, and you could see it only there! There were signs every ten miles or so for literally 178 miles. So we had to see this thing. What were we to do? Well it turns out that ”The Thing" has been deemed by the proprietor of this fine Fina station as being worth one dollar to see. So we paid our two dollars and went into this spooky display complete with yellow spray-painted foot prints leading to the tin building out back. It contained, basically, a lot of junk. It had broken down antique cars which, according to their descriptive signs, were very valuable and rare. There were also old phones, old guns, old paintings, and lots of branches painted to look like surreal animals. The most disturbing display was a panorama in a huge iron cage of life-sized wooden dummies posed in scenes depicting medieval torture. It made us suddenly realize that we were alone in a barn behind a rural filling station in Arizona looking at torture vignettes, and this sounded like a great set up for a horror film where the bright-eyed and incredibly attractive young couple is killed by mountain people. We rushed through the rest of the display which contained a real mummy (scary, and could this gas station possible have proper permission to house a mummy?) and a spider-web laden Indian dummy that looked a little too real.
Then on to Tempe and an AWESOME Holiday Inn Express. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) There was a huge Arizona Mills (identical to Grapevine Mills) within walking distance of the hotel. Since we are two hours behind and had some time to kill, we hit it up. Fun time waster, and now we are going to eat, so I am DONE! See you tomorrow!