Tuesday, September 20

A view that's out of this world


We've just completed Day Two of our grand road trip. The last couple of days have been an entertaining blend of space science and natural wonders. Here's a few brief highlights.

Yesterday began with a visit to the International UFO Museum & Research Centre in Roswell. This walls of of this cavernous building contains a series of simple displays capturing original photographs and eye witness accounts of the 1947 Roswell Incident. Sadly the exhibit lacked a cohesive flow. As a result much of the drama surrounding this controversial event was lost.

Our second tourist stop, the Roswell Museum & Art Centre, was a little more rewarding. Among its exhibits is a reconstruction of the lab operated by Dr Robert Goddard, the man who build the world’s first liquid fuel rocket. The lab is filled with his original tools and machinery, donated by his wife when she died in 1982. The museum also displays a variety of Goddard's early rocketry artefacts, including some of his earliest pioneering efforts.

We then headed west to Alamogordo, stopping briefly to take in the historic streetscape of Lincoln, where the outlaw Billy the Kid kicked off his criminal exploits. Our bed for the night was at the White Sands Motel, a classic, family-owned roadside motel. The original architecture and illuminated billboard sign have been lovely preserved, while each room's interior has been meticulously restore.

We spent today touring the New Mexico Museum of Space History and the spectacular white dunes that give White Sands its name. The Space History Museum sits on a hill overlooking the town. Many of its exhibits are devoted to the missile and rocket research conducted in the area. Highlights include a rocket sled used to test human tolerance for rapid deceleration and the Big Joe rocket, which tested the Apollo’s command module’s emergency escape rocket. I was also reminded that the Space Shuttle landed near here once, just once, in 1982 when alternative landing sites were plagued by poor weather.

We then drove out to the White Sands National Monument. National Parks in the USA are often called monuments. The area’s famous white sand consists of chalky, powered gypsum, a rare form of sand. Gypsum dissolves readily in water and thus rarely survives long enough to form giant rolling dunes.

A 16-mile scenic road loops through the dunes, offering one stunning vista after another. We stopped several times to trek climb the dunes and admire the scene around us. The park also offers a couple of educational walks, each signposted with a series of information panels.

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