Well not quite the Sahara, but it sure felt like it.
One of the rides on my Bucket List has been to ride my Apache Mare at White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Only a handful of gypsum dunefields exist and the White Sands Dunefield in New Mexico is by far the world's largest, covering 275 square miles!
So it was such an honor and a thrill to have the amazing opportunity to ride my horse at such a unique and special location!
Several months ago I began planning an exciting White Sands Cowgirl Weekend for me and a few of my bestie riding friends!
And last weekend, dreams came true!
My friends, Kendra, Loeta, Vicki, and Karen met up along the route so we could trailer-convoy together.
(Here are our trucks and trailers at a rest area. Apache and I were sharing a ride with my friend Vicki and her gelding, Copper. Vicki’s truck is on the far left. Loeta’s truck is second from left. My friend, Karen pulls her horse trailer with a very cushy RV! And Kendra’s sexy red truck is on the far right)
We made our way down together to Las Cruces where we had been invited to stay with my friend Latana and her husband, Tom for the weekend. She had a great set-up for all of our horses and plenty of room for all our horse trailers, too.
There was even room for Karen’s RV with an electric hook-up, too. Sweet!
After getting unpacked and the horses set-up for the evening, we joined up with Latana’s friend Gayle and her husband Kurt and we all went out to dinner in Old Mesilla at the historic La Posta Restaurant.
(Our entire crew on Friday night. From left to right: Me, Gayle, Latana, Loeta, Kendra, Karen, Vicki, Tom and Kurt)
(And all of us cowgirl ladies outside the restaurant after dinner)
Then we came back, checked on the horses, enjoyed a few glasses of wine and called it a night, so we could get an early start for our ride the next day at White Sands National Monument.
White Sands is only 45 minutes east of Latana and Kurt’s home, so once we enjoyed a delicious breakfast (all of us ladies contributed food items for all of our weekend meals. I brought fresh eggs from my hens), we loaded up our ponies, and one mule, and drove east.
We drove over the Organ Mountains Pass after we left Las Cruces. This was the view looking back west.
At the entrance gate to the park, my friend Dora had just arrived from Carlsbad and was registering with the Park Ranger. I was thrilled to see her again as we hadn’t ridden together for almost a year!
(Photo of Dora and her mare Julie, from after our White Sands Ride)
Once we pulled into the Equestrian Trailer Parking Area, my friend LuAnne and her husband Leonard, coming up from El Paso, TX drove in, too. I was very happy to see LuAnne, too, as it had been almost a year since we had ridden together, too. Our last ride together was at an April ACTHA ride in Estancia, NM.
(Photo of LuAnne and Leonard during our White Sands Ride)
It was like many dreams come true seeing all of these special friends and being able to ride together again!
Before we tacked up, we decided to get our ponies used to this new environment, so we walked them in the sand and up and down the sand dune beside the parking area.
I think we were all surprised at how shallow the sand was on the west and south sides of the dunes. I expected the sand to be deep and difficult to walk on. But it was as easy to walk up as hiking up a steep, smooth hill.
We were a little concerned when we were told that over 500 Boy Scouts had descended upon White Sands National Monument that day. We could see some of them all lined up on the dunes on the other side of the loop road and trailer parking area, where they were taking turns sledding down the dunes, and we could faintly hear them, too.
Apache was very interested, just taking it all in. She would just stop and gaze out at this odd vast white world.
Not much bothers her and she rarely ever spooks, but she does prefer to check everything out, and I like to let her.
Everyone got tacked up and then headed up the Equestrian “Starting Dune” just off to the side of the parking area.
(Kendra took a photo of Apache and I waiting for her and Bailey to join us)
And then we rode up the dune to our waiting friends.
Only the top few inches of the gypsum dunes are made of loose sand. Rainwater falling on the dunes dissolves some of the gypsum and cements the sand grains together, creating a crude form of plaster of Paris. This makes the white sand dunes easy to walk on. This also makes it safer for horses to walk, trot and canter on, too. Their legs are less susceptible to leg and soft tissue injuries.
I’m not a fan of sunglasses. I’d rather just wear a hat or my hide-a-helmet cover with it’s wide brim, but when riding on the brilliantly white sand dunes, it’s a must to wear sunglasses, too.
I was a little worried about our horses’ eyes, though, but learned from my friend Latana that an equine's eye has floating particles called, "corpora nigra" which literally means black bodies. They're large enough to be seen if you look into their eyes. Their purpose is to deflect bright light from going straight to the retina which lies at the back of the eye. God designed built-in sunglasses for these special creatures. Too bad the same didn’t happen to, but I guess our brains are supposed to take care of that!
Good friends Dora, Gayle and Karen with the horse trailer parking down below. You can also see the Boy Scouts off in the distance.
Gayle’s husband Kurt has been riding at White Sands for 30 years, so he took on the role of being our Dune Guide. He and his horse like to canter a lot, so he rode rode way up in front of most of us and we didn’t see him much all day. We just followed the hoofprints. lol!
Below you can see Kurt and his boy Dunny.
My sweet friend Loeta and her even sweeter Paso Fino gelding, Profe.
My fun friend Vicki and her handsome Missouri Foxtrotter boy Copper.
My wonderful friend Latana and her lovely mule, Lilly. (Latana was wearing a very large camera under her jacket, hence the bulge out front…not that she’s a quadruple D! lol!)
(Note, too, that she also owns a beautiful hide-a-helmet cover. Hers is tan, while mine is gray)
Friends, LuAnne and her husband Leonard, from El Paso, TX.
Funny friend Karen and her trusty steed Snappy.
And my buddy Kendra with her wonderful Bailey Boy.
The day’s temperatures were in the upper 50’s-lower 60’s, so we all wore light vests over long sleeve shirts. But once we got started riding and the sun was reflecting off the white dunes, we were all soon very warm. When we finally took a rest for lunch, I was quick to strip off my vest and strap it to my saddle.
(No place to tie a horse, so you eat with your horse)
My friend Vicki not only took off her jacket, she stripped down to her t-shirt. Hard to believe it was February!
Our ride started off a little frenzied because some friends preferred to walk, while other wanted to trot or even canter. All of our horses were pretty excited and very forward, so for the first 1/2 mile or so, we kept a quick steady pace.
But before long, we all started to find our place in the ride, and the horses began to relax and enjoy themselves, too.
Folks up high on the dunes seemed to enjoy watching the horses as we rode down below.
The views were absolutely incredible and other-worldly!
The white sands dunefield is an active dunefield. The dunes move from west to east as much as thirty feet per year.
The pure gypsum that forms these unusual dunes originates in the western portion of the monument from an ephemeral lake or playa with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates (theoretically as much as 80" per year!), the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually are wind-transported to form these white sand dunes.
These gypsum sand dunes creep forward as much as 30 feet per year and even fast-growing plants such as yucca and rosemary-mint cannot outgrow them.
(Karen is a hairdresser and said that these pedestals remind her of some of her client’s hair when they come in for treatment. lol!)
Apache and I posing beside a pedestal
These tall pedestals are often topped with sumac, rosemary-mint, or salt cedar and are left behind in the trail of a moving dune.
The White Sands Cowgirls
(left to right: Loeta, Vicki, Karen, Dora, Me, Kendra)
The interdune areas, between the dunes, contain many different types of plants and animals, too. And they can be very fragile with the center-most areas often having dark gray or black, bubbly-looking crypto-biotic soil. Horseback riders are supposed to stay on the outer edges of these fragile areas.
Those interdune areas may contain plants like sand verbena, evening primrose, woolly paperflower, Indian ricegrass, yucca, ephedra.
As our ride progressed, and we all spread out, we all found our “happy place”. There were a few way out in front that were enjoying long canters across the dunes, some in the middle that were having fun walking with short bursts of trotting and cantering, and those in the back who were enjoying the peace, quiet, solitude with a little bit of everything: relaxing walking, trotting and short canters. (That would be me and Kendra and LuAnne, and sometimes Dora) For Kendra, we kept our cantering to short bursts because Bailey sometimes gets excited and going into bucking. We mostly cantered up steep dunes because it was harder for Bailey to buck uphill.
Kendra and I.
But we were never too far from the rest of our group.
Us girls had a lot of fun laughing and riding together.
And everyone took tons of photos of each other. Even when we weren’t looking. *grin*
And it was fun to watch our friends way up ahead trotting and cantering up, across and over the dunes. Even when they would ride down to the other side of a dune, we were never worried about getting lost because we could always see their hoofprints in the sand, and eventually they would pop back up and ride up to the top of another dune.
And we would sometimes catch up with our other friends along the way.
Hi Latana and Lilly!
Howdy Vicki and Loeta!
Of course, something to remember is that there are no real trails in White Sands. You pretty much make your own, because even though we could follow the hoofprints of our friends that day, you can count on the wind erasing all evidence of those hoofprints in just a day or two. But the plus side of that is that every time you visit White Sands National Monument, you feel as if you are the first person to visit, because the sand is unmarred by human or horse prints.
While riding along the top of a dune, we looked down and noticed some very peculiar gypsum sand sculptures.
I decided to call this place “Nipple Valley”.
Upon seeing the sculptures, Leonard said, “I like this place. I think I’ll stay awhile and enjoy the views” And we all took photos………
Leonard and LuAnne made me laugh a lot. I really enjoyed riding with them.
In fact we rode way in the back with them as often as we could. Kendra and I really enjoyed their slower pace.
Riding White Sands was so enjoyable. There was so much to see. Such beauty all around us.
Apache and I both enjoyed taking it all in.
And we rode downhill.
And sometimes we’d canter straight up the side of a dune. Fun!
And sometimes we’d ride downhill in deep sand. (Apache really seemed to enjoy these sections and wanted to run down them. Or she would walk down and then try to break into a trot at the bottom. She really kept me on my toes. *grin*
But mostly we all had goofy grins of happiness on our faces.
It was an awesome day! Truly a Bucket List Ride!
But the weekend wasn’t over yet!!
Here’s my GPS Map of our ride so you can see our entire 8.1mile route, as well as our speeds and elevation.
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