Find us on Google+ Rick and JoAnne's RV Travels: Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and White Sands National Monument

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and White Sands National Monument

Rick Morgan

As we pulled out of Elephant Butte State Park we headed toward Alamogordo. Plan A was to see if we could “luck out” and get one of the first-come first-serve sites – it appeared all of the reserved sites had been taken. Plan B would be a site in one of the commercial campgrounds in the area. Lucky us! We found a great site in the relatively small campground at Oliver Lee. 

The beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, the largest in North America, takes some time getting used to. If you let it, it grows on you. The park sits at the base of the very rugged Sacramento Mountains. Yes, there is a rigorous hike up the mountain – but we decided to pass – it was much easier to just sit and relax in our front yard. 

Instead we took a short but very pretty nature loop hike behind the visitor center. There is some very interesting Old Western history associated with this particular area. 

Unbelievably, the area’s first homesteader was a French carpenter - Francois-Jean Rochas, known locally as “Frenchy”. A loner, he arrived in Dog Canyon in 1885 and built his home from indigenous stone, constructed stone walls for his cattle, and an orchard. Parts of the structure still stand in the park and some artifacts derived from an archeological dig are displayed in the visitor’s center. 

Frenchy met an untimely death in 1894. He was found shot in his home, dead from a single gunshot to the chest. His death remains an unsolved mystery along with the other unresolved mystery surrounding him. Did he really build the helix staircase in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, or was it built, as legend has it, by St. Joseph?

It would have been fun to tour the ranch of the parks namesake, Oliver (Milton) Lee. His arrival in Dog Canyon in 1893 established him as a famous local rancher who raised cattle and horses. He was well known for helping to establish the city of Alamogordo and the Otero County area. Unfortunately, they only offer access on Saturday and Sunday. Yet, the visitor center did provide a good overview of the full history of the area. 

Ding…You’ve got mail! Fellow bloggers and Google + contacts Paul and Carol Goldberg sent us an email asking if we were going to be in the area for a few days. It turns out they were camped in Las Cruces. A few emails later, we agreed to meet at the White Sands National Monument. They had been to White Sands many times and suggested we pack a picnic lunch and they would serve as our personal guides. We had a great time with Paul and Carol. Picnicking, fun hikes and lots of sharing of RV travel adventures. Oh, and we were also joined by Flat Stanley.

Wow! White Sands is indeed a fascinating place. White indeed…as far as you can see, a sea of white dunes of talcum like gypsum sand. It’s so very different from the Sand Dunes National Park in our home state of Colorado. It was partially overcast the day we went which was good for hiking around but not the best for pictures. It was still very bright and I can’t imagine the intensity you would experience under full sun. 

On the way back to Olive Lee we just had to stop at the Oliver Lee General Store. What a mish-mosh  of stuff much of it the personal collection of the eccentric owner.

More pictures here.