A Teacher’s Summer at the White Sands

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Heading west through the heat of a Texas sun with a destination north of El Paso in the Chihuahua Desert. Leaving behind what most school teachers hold dear, the summer, I pass through small towns and upper elevation villages until the two lane crests and I begin my descent into the Tularosa Basin. The purpose of this summer sacrifice – White Sands National Monument. The NPS has allowed me the privilege of working as a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher for the next 8 weeks. The time is intended to be a mutual benefit to both parties.  Gravities’ pull accelerates me down the final miles to the entrance of the monument. The monument’s adobe visitor’s center sits baking in the sun while the basins surrounding mountains are veiled in a haze. I set up my camper and eagerly await the next day’s realizations.

National parks and monuments, too many visitors, are the scaffolding of an all-American road trip. These natural backdrops for Kodak moments provide grand itineraries to trip planners and fill the lines of life’s list destinations. For many years, I held the same tourist approach to the purpose of the National Park Service’s unique lands and monuments. I was unaware that these areas of beauty and awe held far more valuable lessons in environmental appreciation and emotional connection to nature until I was immersed in the NPS.

My awareness of NPS themes, or purpose, came through my participation in the Teacher-Ranger- Teacher program of the NPS. This program allows classroom teachers to work in a national park or national monument for 8 weeks during the summer. During this time I determined the NPS, just as a teacher, is attempting to make connections with people. I began to see WHSA as a classroom, a wonderland of geology, biology, and ecology. White Sands National Monument is an environment where adaptations occur before the eye and Earth’s cycles perform as if on stage.  As a TRT I was able to entangle myself in these plays for the majority of the summer.  This genuine experience showed me a purpose to the NPS I was unaware of, an incredible educational resource.   

My experience has helped me not only as a teacher but a visitor to our national parks. My family and I will no longer be the “30 minute” tourist. We will stop and stay longer and instead of just taking the iconic photo or seeing the must see attraction, we will listen to a ranger talk or go on a guided hike. We will attempt to interpret the park on a personal level. This new purpose to our travels will allow a better connection to “our” national parks and monuments.

As my summer TRT experience comes to an end and I head east toward home.  My vehicle struggles up the Sacramento Mountains one last time,  I turn and look down upon the Tularosa Basin – I now know that when a visitor looks upon Whites Sands National Monument in the right light, at that particular time of day, when the mind is full of wonder and curiosity, that he will see the gypsum infused water flowing into Lake Lucero and evaporating just as quickly while the temperature, water, and wind relentlessly weathers and breaks down the selenite crystals into smaller and smaller pieces creating the sea of soft white waves.

2019 – The summer of KOAs

In the mid-seventies while the nation was in a gas shortage and energy crisis my family was pulling a Terry bumper-pull travel trailer around the USA. In my mind we were always traveling somewhere, in hindsight I realize my blue-collar dad only had off a couple of weeks per year making this memory of constant transcontinental travel impossible.

Today, I know many memories were the product of photo albums and stories that saturated my mind.  It really does not matter to me how these reflections of family vacations  got in my head, they are there and that is what is important.

Oh – most of my memories are at KOAs

So In the summer of 2019 Tab across Texas hit the road and to check out a few KOAs to determine if they still held the power to create memories.

Spoiler alert, to our surprise, they did.

Our summer journey began in Oklahoma and we would ultimately stay in four Oklahoma KOAs.

Each KOA offered a different experience with similar vibe, a friendly vibe. No matter if we just showed up to get a spot or called ahead, the KOA staff seemed authentic in manner and customer service.

As for the experience – right on the mark for memory making. From fishing ponds to  game rooms, on-site horse tracks to casinos, not to mention the swimming pools and wonderful restroom and shower facilities Oklahoma’s KOAs are A OK.

Our KOA experiences continued on into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada.

The KOAs in places such as Abilene, Texas and Grants, New Mexico we used for quick overnight spots. Even for these stays of less than twelve hours the KOA offered easy setup, attentive staff, and quite neighbors.

The Las Cruces, New Mexico KOA was an experience that will not be forgotten. A pleasant staff greeted us on arrival and we settled into a spot with a great view of the Organ Mountains. A wonderful sunset and a brilliant night sky made for a wonderful experience.

Our KOA experience in Mesa, Arizona was just as pleasant as New Mexico. Our site had a great view of Superstition Mountain and was surrounded by Saguaro cactus. The busy season in Arizona is definitely winter, while during summer reservations would not be required for an RV site, many attractions and restaurants are closed for the season.

Tab across Texas made it all the way to Las Vegas during the summer of 2019. We found a KOA at Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino and set up for a couple of nights. At first we were a bit leery about a KOA on Bolder Highway in Las Vegas but our concerns quickly dissipated as we entered into this desert oasis. While the RV sites are nothing to write home about the pool and facilities are great. With the Tab only a few yards from these amenities we would spend the day by the pool before venturing over, easy walk, to Sam’s Town for and evening of entertainment.

Tab across Texas stayed in a total of nine different KOA in five different states over the course of the summer of 2019. The KOAs offered a consistency in operation that allowed us to not worry about what to expect from each overnight.

While the prices ranged from thirty to fifty dollars per night, Tab across Texas believes that quality comes at a price and from our experiences, KOA is quality.