Thursday, September 22

Room enough to swing a cat

Where do you go when you need to test a missile?  White Sands Missile Range of course.  This restricted area stretches more than 50 miles along the edge of the Organ Mountains.  Almost every missile in the US military arsenal was tested here at some point.  More than 65 years after opening, missile testing continues on the range today.  Each test closes the State Highway 70 that crosses the range, often for hours at a time.

Some of the range's earliest test subjects are currently on display in a spectacular missile park.  The park and accompanying museum sit on the edge of a secure military facility.  Visitors are required to park their car outside the perimeter fence and walk through a secure checkpoint.  As you cross you're warned not to take photographs beyond the boundary of the missile park, with your camera always facing west.

It seemed somewhat ironic that we could wander unfettered between dozens of missiles on display, taking photos at will while the latest nuclear delivery system was being tested nearby.  However, Garry and I both noted that almost every missile in park was first tested at least three decades ago.  The latest technology was clearly not on display.

The park is also home to one of the world's best preserved German V2 rockets.  More than 200 of them were shipped to White Sands at the end of WWII as America sought to master this new technology.  The V2 currently on display has been carefully cut open to reveal its interior. The engineering was fascinating.  It was clear the Germans were far ahead of the times, even more so given that Robert Goddard had only launched the world's first successful liquid fuel rocket less than 25 years earlier.

New Mexico is the perfect place to test a missile.  The state is vast and empty. In the last two days we've driven hundreds of kilometres, soaking up views of an arid, empty landscape.  As you can from the photo above, at times the road seemed to stretch forever. 

The area's harsh climate was also bought into stark relief when we visited Elephant Butte Lake.  This is a man made body of water formed when the Rio Grande was dammed in 1916.  Currently, its almost empty with a series of prominent mineral deposits ringing the lake edge more than 25 metres above the current water line.

It was here that we also stopped for the night.  We stayed at the Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa, a restored hotel in the nearby town of Truth or Consequences.  The hotel sits atop a natural mineral hot spring.  As guests we were invited to enjoy a complimentary soak, before enjoying a refreshing massage. Ahhhh. Relaxing!

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