We planned a quick day trip to El Paso to get registered as Texas residents, and despite numerous phone calls to various agencies we were given wrong information and couldn’t complete the process. So we basically had the whole day to tour around and we saw that Alamogordo and the White Sands National Monument were not too far away, so off we went.

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The New Mexico Museum of Space History, located in Alamogordo, has an impressive entrance highlighted by a five story cube of glass and surrounded outside by an equally impressive array of old rocketry, missiles and space vehicles in what is called the John P. Stapp Air and Space Park. Also located outside is the burial site of HAM, the first “astrochimp”, launched on a Mercury capsule on January 31, 1961. The success of his flight cleared the way for the first manned flight three months later.

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The museum is fascinating for the scope of its exhibits, from the development of sustainable rockets to launch space vehicles to living and working in space. You can see a real moon rock, replicas of the first man-made satellites and scale models of several spacefaring craft. Man’s adaptation to the unique conditions of space included development of a space toilet, space food, bioinstrumentation pack and a shuttle lander simulator, which I tried.

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There is a great exhibit of the development of rockets, complete with a mock-up of the rumble and roar of a launch. The pioneers of this development are honored here, men such as Robert Goddard who was repatriated to Alamogordo to aid in the development of space travel. From the top floor you can see over the Tularosa  Basin, home of Holloman Air Force Base and the White Sands Missile Range, both of which played important roles in space exploration and continue to do so.

From the top floor of the museum you can see across the basin to the White Sands National Monument. This is a little bit above my pay grade, but when the Permian Sea retreated millions of years ago, it left behind deep layers of gypsum. Mountains rose and carried the gypsum high, then water from melting glaciers dissolved the mineral and returned it to the basin. The process continues today with rain and snow. Shallow lakes, wind and sun help to break down crystals until they are no more than sand, and strong southwest winds keep the gypsum sand moving, ever-changing the landscape. Because the water level is so shallow, the sand remains cool to the touch in contrast to the soaring temperatures in the basin.

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The Jornada  Mogollon arrived in the Tularosa Basin after the last ice age ended 11,000 years ago. They remained until around 1300 when drought forced them to leave. American Indians returned in the 1600’s and European Americans came in the late 1800’s. Rail brought more settlers to Alamogordo and in 1933, Herbert Hoover proclaimed the White Sands National Monument.

This is pristine, a beautiful expanse of white in contrast to the mountains that surround the basin. The white sand dunes shift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert covering 275 square miles – the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

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Today’s recipe came about as a result of some leftover pork we had. The Savory Spice Shop, along with the Spice Shop in Chicago, are my favorite go-to spice haunts and the inspiration for this vindaloo came from the Savory Spice Shop. You can use leftover chicken and beef as well, and I’m sure it would be great with shrimp. This was good!

vindaloo

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