We had spent four nights at the Carlsbad KOA and we were more then ready to set off to a new part of New Mexico. We continued our journey westward a further 144 miles with our destination being Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, located just south of Alamogordo, NM. The days drive proved to be a short one, yet challenging with a mountain pass through Lincoln National Forest. We were pleased to be able to stop and explore the charming alpine town of Cloudcroft along the way. The town’s main street is bustling with cute shops and several restaurant options.

One side of main street in Cloudcroft.

One side of main street in Cloudcroft.

We had started our lazy Sunday of exploration at a small shop filled to the brim with kitchy home items, stuffed animals, shirts, stickers, and much more. We purchased a few things (and had to convince Jack that several stuffed animals actually lived there and would be sad without their friends to keep them company). and chatted with the woman behind the counter for a minute. We asked if any of the restaurants in town were particularly child friendly and she let us know that Dave’s Cafe, at the end of the street was the only place in town that had a changing table as well as good burgers and excellent salads. As Jack was in need of a changing table we headed there next, bypassing all the other shops as we went knowing we would be able to peruse at our leisure after lunch.

Dave’s Cafe lived up to the reputation given by the woman we had met. The service was quick, the dining casual, and the food was excellent. We roamed around the town that is nestled close to a ski resort so the shops were run by ski bums and they loitered around town, as there was no snow. The shops were fun to poke our heads into and a small art gallery had us swooning over several pieces. Sadly, toddler-hood isn’t the best time to be buying breakable and beautiful pottery.

We had soon visited all open shops and were ready to hit the road again. The day was sunny with temps in the 50s. The trailer provided the perfect spot, throughout our whole trip, to keep Latigo in while we stopped for lunch or an extended break. He could relax on the bed and a ceiling fan/vent kept the temperature cool when it was hot. It was a big relief, not having to worry if the car was too hot for him.

The trip down to the mountain proved to be just as harrowing as the trip up while hauling our small trailer. The engine on our Explorer kept wanting to engine break which produced one of the most terrifying sounds we had ever heard. We became convinced that the Explorer was just going to give out and we would be propelled down the mountain without breaks. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and we were soon cruising into and then out of Alamogordo and on to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. We had very low expectations for this park, basing our expectations only on the name, but it proved to be my favorite campsite of the trip! Nestled against a beautiful cliff with empty desert stretching out before it, the campground was situated on a slight hill which meant that the sites were positioned in tiers and we couldn’t see our neighbors from inside the camper and had clear views of the desert before us. The low growing cacti that surrounded the site also meant that the view was completely unobstructed.

Nighttime view of our campsite!

Nighttime view of our campsite!

Because we had added on an additional day in Carlsbad we didn’t have time to explore the state park and, instead, had to head immediately to White Sands National Monument, the reason we had wanted to stay in this area.

Before we left I decided to check a hunch that had been growing for several days as we had traveled and I took a pregnancy test. We have been trying for a second baby for almost a year and had suffered a loss in October while on another adventure in Maine. To our great surprise and joy the test was POSITIVE! We couldn’t believe it! We headed to White Sands National Monument with a new spring in our step and immense happiness in our hearts!

The park was bustling! Something we hadn’t experienced much of on this trip was crowds. This site proved the one exception. People swarmed all around! We stopped in at the visitor center hoping to get a map of the hiking trails in the area and our customary sticker and book for Jack (we collect one of each from every park we visit). There are two gift shops in the small visitor center, one run by the Park Service the other seemed to be more geared towards gifts and art. The latter is where you could rent sleds for $10. Upon returning the sled you got $3 of it back. Since Jack hadn’t enjoyed sledding in the snow in MN we decided not to spend the $7 on a sled that, in all likelihood, wouldn’t be used. With map and souvenirs in hand we climbed back into the car to travel the couple of miles to the sands.

We had originally planned on a backpacking trip here. It was one of the few destinations we would be visiting that allowed dogs on the trails and had a short 2.2 mile trail to ten backcountry campsites. This National Monument is located on the southern tip of the white sand area, the majority of the area makes up the White Sands Missile Range, an Air Force base. The park is occasionally shut down when missile tests are being performed and the night we had planned on backpacking proved to be the one night that they would be closed. Originally, we were pretty bummed but after spending some time on the sand, on a windy day, we realized that sleeping in such a windy/sandy environment might not have been that much fun…

Our pass was checked at a fee station along the road, manned by a couple from Cloquet, MN (the husband of which was awkwardly topless) and we drove down the sand-plowed road towards the  trailhead for the backcountry campsites. Knowing we couldn’t spend the night we just wanted to check out the sites. We sunscreened up a beyond fussy Jack and we were soon wondering if we’d see anything. He didn’t want to walk. He didn’t want to be carried. He didn’t want a snack. It seemed he just wanted to cry. We decided to force him on to the sand and see if that would change his mood. If it wouldn’t we decided we would just call it a day and be okay with missing out on it. Thankfully the second he realized what he was looking at his bad mood was blown away along with thousands of pieces of sand.

Slathering up a sad kiddo.

Slathering up a sad kiddo.

The sand was blowing hard but Jack was soon off and exploring as we did our best to stick to the trail, marked with frequent posts in the sand. Footprints lead in every direction and we realized how easily and quickly hikers could be lost in this sea of sand.

He LOVED the sand!

He LOVED the sand!

Our intrepid explorer ran, frolicked, threw sand in the air, jumped, and giggled with unadulterated joy as we explored the dunes.

We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day!

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day!

Giggling with joy at being tossed in the air!

Giggling with joy at being tossed in the air!

We didn’t do the full loop. I’m not sure how long we were out or even where we went exactly but I do know that we all had an absolute blast. With cheeks sore from grinning, shoes and pockets full of sand, and our legs sore from walking on the slippery landscape we headed back towards the car. Occasionally, the strong breeze and blowing sand made Jack a little nervous, as he was right at the painful level of the breeze, but in arms he was back to cheerful!

This is a day that I will undoubtedly remember for the rest of my life. Days like this, of pure family fun and joy, seem to occur all too infrequently and vacation has a magical way of making them happen time and again.


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About the author

I am the youngest of six daughters and spent my childhood vacations camping in the beautiful State Parks of MN. In 2009 I married my best friend, Bobby Marko. We have embarked on numerous adventures along with our Golden Retriever, Latigo, our son, Jack (born 7/26/2014) and our daughter, Rowan (born 10/25/2016). When not adventuring in the great outdoors I spend my time as a stay at home mom and volunteer. I am a Branch Lead for the Twin Cities Hike it Baby branch. My favorite pastimes include dog training, eating chocolate, reading mysteries and crappy romance novels, and creating paper crafts, my passion lies in writing.


  1. I am so, so happy for you guys. Congratulations!!

  2. Bobby Marko

    Thanks Ingunn!

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