Adult antics in sand

Personal Journeys

A memorable placeWe were just...

August 30, 1998|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Adult antics in sand; A memorable place

We were just another bus load of half-awake tourists trying to look forward to the morning's first stop, White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico. Assessing the two rows of '' seats, I noted the usual assortment of gray, brown and balding heads: several couples like my husband and me; a dozen pairs of stylish ladies; one or two male combos. Our earnest young tour guide's spiel plucked at the group's apathy like a persistent puppy striving for attention. Words like Awesome! Ageless! Vividly contrasting! assailed an audience whose digestive systems were still busy with the previous night's Welcome Dinner, lack of sleep and the onslaught of a lumberjack breakfast.

"We'll be arriving soon," said Jake, our leader. "Then we'll dismount our luxury coach and climb the dunes! Please don't forget your cameras!"

I hunkered down in my seat, the seasoned traveler refusing to become another mindless sheep, and closed my eyes. With any luck, I told myself, I'll be allowed to remain quietly on the bus while the others inspect these fabled hills of sand. After all, I'd seen more than enough sand in my time. The bus' lurching stop canceled my nap.

"We're here, folks!" Jake crowed. "Now you're in for a treat!"

Herd-like, the tour participants followed his lead out of the bus.

When my turn came to disembark, I was startled by Jake's command: "Please remove your shoes and socks, everyone. We're going to be climbing sand dunes. You need to be in your bare feet!"

"I can't do this," I told Jake, but he was insistent.

"Come on, trust me. You'll see what I mean!"

Most of the group was already struggling up the biggest mountain of sand I had ever seen. This was an effort for some, but egged on by our irrepressible guide, all of us made it to the summit. There we fell silent, dumbfounded by the immaculate panorama of soft, wind-sculptured dunes spread out below.

"Come on, now," Jake urged, "walk around, get the feel of it."

As if on cue, our moods changed. Someone began to laugh, then to run. One old man lay down and made angel-wings in the sand. Before long, everybody was either running and laughing or aiming cameras at the comic spectacle of 40 uninhibited senior citizens cavorting like overgrown children in a gigantic sand pile!

Back on the bus, I told Jake the dunes were better than Prozac, safer than alcohol.

"You knew this would happen, didn't you?" I asked, smiling. "You knew that we'd become kids again."

"Never fails," he said, grinning slyly; "just never fails."

Mary Johnson lives in Baltimore.

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