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A Southwest Road Trip: Hatch Chiles and White Sands National Monument

road trip

Last summer I was on a two-week work trip through the southwest. My road trip started in Tucson, Arizona, where I lived previously, and I drove to Alamogordo, New Mexico. I was scheduled to attend a class on the medical and psychological aspects of flying remotely piloted aircraft for a week with a follow-on trip to San Antonio, Texas to finalize an aircraft accident investigation.

Such a fun life, right…? Trust me. It’s not as exciting as I may make it seem. 

Since my house finally sold in Tucson, I was living in a hotel and out of my car for a few weeks. After playing a half-hour long game of Tetris getting my stuff in the car, I started my drive on Interstate 10 to New Mexico. I knew that my trip wasn’t going to allow me with the wiggle room to explore, so I decided to make the best of it while I could in Alamogordo.

The Chile Capital of the World

Hatch is a tiny town in southern New Mexico known for their infamous Hatch chiles and appropriately called the Chile Capital of the World. When you drive through the town, the streets are lined with stores selling bundles upon bundles of chile peppers. Most of the peppers that I saw were dark red, with some variability in color, such as greens, oranges, and yellows. It’s a very small town with less than 2,000 people, but every year, during the Annual Chile Festival held during Labor Day, over 30,000 visitors flock to Hatch.

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I was on such a long drive from Tucson that I didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Hatch. I drove down the main street and stopped at a small, family-owned store advertising the infamous chiles. Dried, dark crimson peppers adorned the walls of the of the store and wooden crates and buckets were filled past the brim. An older gentleman was roasting peppers just around the corner. It smelled amazing and the smoke slightly burned the inside of my nostrils due to the capsaicin. Roasted hatch chiles are my favorite, and local grocery stores in Tucson would roast and sell these slightly hot peppers near the end of summer.

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Inside the small store, there were tons of varieties of chiles available: dried, powdered, even decorative. The owner took pride in his business, and he was right to do so. He was more than happy to answer questions and provide samples. I opted for some mild chile powder, something that’ll last me a long time when kept in the fridge, a couple sticks of cinnamon, and a decorative Piquin Chile Pepper Ristra.

What’s great about Hatch chiles is that they are sold and available everywhere. They’re that popular.

White Sands National Monument

After spending a week in Alamogordo, prior to driving out to San Antonio, I took a minor detour to White Sands. 275 square miles of gypsum sand dunes glistened in the warm sun, with occasional plants springing from the ground and animals coming out of hiding. It was a warm Friday morning and although it was monsoon season in late August, the weather was perfect for the visit.

I drove on Dunes Drive, an eight-mile (or 16 miles round trip) scenic drive through the dunefield. The road is a perfect way to see the White Sands and there are many stops along the way, including picnic areas and hiking trails. It’s a short drive, but with the many pullouts and parking areas, it’s best to take your time to really enjoy the dunes. On occasion, missile tests are conducted leading up to the closure of the highway as well as the Dunes Drive to ensure the safety of visitors.

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I only had enough time to make a few stops. There are plenty of hikes, ranging anywhere from less than half a mile to five miles round trip and as always, its best to be prepared prior to hiking since there usually isn’t any shade or water available. I went on the Interdune Boardwalk, which is less than half a mile round trip with outdoor exhibits along the way. This area of White Sands is designated for research and preservation purposes, and the intention of the boardwalk is to keep people off the sands. I drove a little further down to explore some of the dunes. I passed families sledding on the sand, an incredibly popular sport on the white dunes. Though what I enjoyed most was  how peaceful and quiet it was.

Have you been to Hatch or White Sands? Share your experiences!

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