Stranded in White Sands (New Mexico)

A good friend often remarks, “You have a penchant for putting yourself in crisis”. That’s an astute observation. I put myself in trouble in the simplest of situations. My Thanksgiving ‘crisis’ was in White Sands National Monument, featuring one of the most surreal locations in continental USA.

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Dazzling White Sands

White Sands is a dazzling white gypsum desert that could be the perfect backdrop for dystopian science fictions. Let me repeat: White Sands is a desert. Rainfall is rare; especially in winter. Yet, it rained. Heavily. Under the gloomy clouds, we experienced a very different White gray Sands drenched in rain, dotted with temporary puddles. Cloudy sky often leads to breathtaking sunsets at White Sands. Not happening with me around the area. The sunset was pretty dismal, barring streaks of fascinating colors for a few minutes.

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Puddles of water in the sand dunes

Interestingly, as last streaks of yellow sunlight disappeared, gray gave way to white and for a few minutes, we were thrilled to drive around in the twilight, despite the rain. If I didn’t know, I would have easily mistaken the white dunes for snow covered hills. However, light faded quickly. Darkness engulfed us in a matter of minutes and it became really difficult to drive in the rain. If you have never been to White Sands, even the roads are white due to the gypsum swept by wind. I proceeded at ~5mph while attempting to figure out which part of the white was actually part of the road.

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Even the roads are white in White Sands

Suddenly, I felt I had gone over a heap and the car wouldn’t move forward. I soon realized that I had driven over a small dune and the car was resting on the peak of the dune. The wheels would spin merrily if I tried to press on gas. We were literally stranded in the desert.

Fortunately, another car passing by noticed our plight and stopped to help. We attempted in vain to push the car away from the dune. A Park Ranger spotted us loitering in the inter-dunal area and turned on the siren and flashing lights to give me a ticket. After a round of questioning, she realized my plight and turned out to be the godsend angel we could pray for. She got a shovel from her Jeep and started to shovel the sand underneath our car. I felt guilty standing there and watching her shovel in the rain; but she would not pass on the shovel to me.

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My rental car stuck in the sand dune

It was already past the closing time of White Sands National Monument and shoveling sand was getting us nowhere. The tires refused to grip onto the wet sand. The ranger looked out of options. It was the Thanksgiving Day and towing agencies in the nearest town were closed. There was no cellular network reception either. We were almost resigned to spending the night in the car.

There’s one pattern which is very common in most of my travelogues: a miracle often happens whenever I find myself with my back against the wall. White Sands was no exception. Another Ranger, who was late in completing a maintenance, passed by and noticed us struggling. His vehicle had tow hooks.

I was elated. Finally, the misery would come to an end; or so I thought. Surprisingly, my rental car did not have any tow hooks. For the next 15 minutes, we took turns to read the car’s manual and figure out how to tow the car. The manual had no information, apart from a warning that the car’s engines were not powerful enough to tow another car. How helpless are we in a Google-less world!

The ranger with the tow-truck thought of another idea. He piled up sand around the wheels for traction and planned to slowly press on gas. It worked! I have no idea how he managed to make car move; my earlier attempts were futile. If I owned a mud-racing team, I would definitely hire him. But, all I could offer him was home-made chocolate cake.

It was literally a ‘Thanksgiving’ day for me; I thanked the rangers, who selflessly braved the rain to help me. With the temperature dropping, rain giving way to snow and little gas left in the tank, not sure how we would have passed the night.

Whenever I have been in a sticky situation in any of the 6 continents, some stranger has stepped up to help without expecting anything in return. I harbor a utopian idea that if more people started traveling and experiencing the kindness, there would be a dramatic reduction in hatred and animosity in this world.

Related Post

Glimpses of New Mexico: A 4 day roadtrip itinerary

Some of my photos from the White Sands trip

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Do not copy, download or use any photo without the permission of the author

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