New Mexico Part 2-White Sands Missile Range

April 17, 2017

Dear Friends,

After we visited the Carlsbad Caverns (see “New Mexico Part 1” for more details), we headed over to Deming, New Mexico. We were surprised at the amount of history, culture and scenic experience this little town in the desert had. But first, we crossed through the White Sands Missile Range, a missile testing range that is still active today.

Since it was on the way, we stopped in at the White Sands Missile Range Museum-trailer and all. We were not quite sure of the protocol and pulled into a small parking lot at the entrance, just about blocking the roadway. The parking lot was full at the time and it was physically impossible to turn around and head back to a dirt area prior to the parking lot. If we needed to go forward through the military base’s gate, the entire fifth wheel would have been subject to searching. What a pain that would be! Similar to Fort Hood (See “Waco, Texas”), we passed the background check and gained admittance. The staff there recommended leaving the trailer where it was currently precariously parked and walk up to the museum.

Once inside the museum, we learned about the progressive development of missiles, the equipment used, and a few stories of “whoopsies”. The most notable tests were on the development of long range missiles. I found it slightly disturbing to know they currently launch long range missiles far off the base. This way, the missiles are shot over the cities and towns to land inside the missile testing range. Hopefully they got their calculations right. However one time, the military underestimated the distance the missile would go. It overshot the testing range and landed outside El Paso. Since then, they started an emergency notification system to alert nearby communities if a malfunction occurred and something was headed their way.

All the while we were inside, my mind kept drifting back to the question, “How are we going to get the trailer out of the parking lot?” However, a special exhibit dramatically refocused my attention. A survivor of World War II’s Bataan Death March depicted his horrific story through a series of paintings. This man sketched out a few scenes of his experiences while he was there. After the war he learned to paint and set out to made those vivid memories come alive on the canvases.

Like the Nazi’s, the Japanese had brutal prisoner of war camps. In this case they forced the malnourished Filipino and American prisoners to be sardined into sweltering hot train cars and then marched them over 60 miles to transfer them to a different camp. This was marked by intense beatings, shootings, and starvation along the way. One painting depicted a peasant woman trying to throw the men some bread, only to be shot by the guards for her sympathetic action. Thousands of prisoners collapsed or were shot, dying along the way. This evil event particularly affected the people of New Mexico, as the majority of the US troops were from this state. This was the first of several exhibits in the area remembering the march.

As the afternoon drifted away, we finished exploring the museum inside and then looked around outside. Several examples of various missiles representing the differing conflicts were shown. Drones, planes, helicopters, and other launching devices stood silently beside the colorful missiles on the hillside. We walked along in the intensely bright sun seeing the specifications of each example shown.

When we completed our self-guided tour, we walked back to the truck. Along the way, we sized up potential places to turn the rig around. We were convinced the only way to get out was to go through the gate and inspection. We talked to a guard who granted us permission to cross onto the base without any added complication. Fortunately, just as we approached our vehicle, the last remaining car in our path pulled out. This left Joel with just enough room to squeeze a tight turn and head out the same direction we came in at. I was relieved we got out of there okay in the end and continued on to the RV park in Deming.

Until we meet again,

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