National Geographic : 1957 Jul
fided, sweeping into a turn. "It takes time to know how much 'oomph' you need. "You get so you can read the sand. The ripples tell you where it's too soft." We skimmed back toward the highway. "Got to find a place to drop off," said the busy driver, scanning the white expanse. "I guess this'll do." Even Skilled Dune Drivers Get Stuck I was sure he'd made a terrible mistake. We plunged over a precipice and stopped, hanging below the brink. Suddenly I found myself standing on the dashboard, looking down through the windshield. "What happened?" I gasped. "Oh, nothing," said Johnwill. "We're stuck, that's all. I shouldn't have stopped." "How can you sit there, or whatever you call it at this angle, and say we're stuck? If we take a deep breath, the car will tumble end over end!" "I don't think so," he replied, climbing out and stretching. He grabbed a shovel and passed me one. I had trouble enough stand ing up without digging, but watching the mas ter I learned. Soon we uncovered the wheels. "It'll go now," said Johnwill. Riding a glacier of white sand, the car slid gently down the 40-foot slope. At the bottom I dug the bumper out, and five minutes later we were at the Visitor Center. Truckloads of men and equipment had rumbled by since early morning. The White Sands annual Play Day, held on the second Saturday in April, was getting under way. It looked as if Alamogordo and near-by Hol 122 An Automobile Threads Drifts Like a Mouse in a Monstrous Maze In the monument's early days, the National Park Service built a clay-topped road into the desert. Dunes loped over it. A request to change the track's location went to Washington, D. C. By the time it was granted, sands had rolled over the proposed bed. Finally, after discovering that moist flats need no topping to support traffic, the White Sands park offi cials got permission to grade a track wherever fickle nature directs. Here a car travels the main road, which swings around the Heart of Sands (foreground), the monu ment's recreation area. Trough at center was dug by a road grader to demonstrate how close water stands to the surface of the flat (page 118). Shaded picnic table casts its shadow at right. Sweeping across the crystal-encrusted marsh of Lake Lucero (upper center), the prevailing wind swirls the sand into ever-changing patterns. Drifts rise in slopes before the face of the wind, drop off as cliffs in its lee.