Hannan’s White Sands Hum Job

This came through to the group on email and was so good, I had to post it!

From MadDog:

 Once in July in the early 1970s, when I was at home over Jordan Street in Las Cruces, Hannan came calling on me at that location. He drove up in a little Pacer, not the Ganghoffer Thing. We stayed up all night drinking wine.

About a half-hour before dawn on that Sunday, Hannan decided to drive out to the dunes at White Sands National Monument for to take some pictures of the sunrise over the white gypsum sands. I went along to assist.

About ten miles outside of town on Highway 70, Mike asked if I thought there’d be a gas station open in the tiny town of Organ, which was near the pass a few miles ahead. I told him that I didn’t know, but that there might be one gas station in that town. We passed through town but saw no gas stations open.

“John, are there going to be any gas stations open before we get to the dunes? I’m almost out of gas,” stated Hannan urgently. I told him that there were no gas stations.

“Are you sure, John?” “Yes, I’m almost positive.”

We crossed San Agustin Pass and witnessed a beautiful distant sunrise behind thousands of tiny variegated, sharply delineated, pink, black, purple, orange and red clouds that were reminiscent of the whole American fleet formed up at sea ready for the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

At that time we were about five miles from the turn off to the White Sands Missile Range main gate. All visitors desiring to enter the base were required to stop at the entrance and state their business in order to acquire the requisite permit.

“John, they surely have gas available at the Missile Range. The Army has to have gas doesn’t it?” “Yes, but they won’t let us on post to buy gas,” I said. “Wanna bet?” boasted Hannan.

So we tooled up to the gate and immediately a sharply dressed, white-gloved MP stepped out of the guard-shack and asked our business.

The totally-confident Hannan responded thus, “Good morning. We’re with the AV Corporation in Houston and have been given an assignment to take some photos of the area for NASA as part of their public relations and publicity bureau. See, here are my credentials.”

Hannan had his wallet ready and showed the MP an impressive, unfolding chain of business cards. He paused but a moment and continued with his line, “However, I’m just about completely out of gas and I was wondering if there was any chance you could tell us how to get to a gas station on this post?”

The MP responded, “Sir, just pull your car over to the side there and wait. I’ll have to make a phone call.”

“Shit! Mike, we’re really in trouble now,” I said. “No sweat, Maddog.”

A few moments later an olive-green car with a siren pulled up in front of us. An officer got out and walked toward us.

“Good morning! Are you the fellow that needs some gas?” “That’s us!” “OK, just follow me!”

So, Hannan’s little Pacer followed the MP car a few blocks and pulled in behind him next to a row of gas pumps. The officer got out and proceeded to fill our tank. “How much do I owe you?” asked Hannan. “Don’t worry ’bout it none! Comes courtesy of Uncle Sam.” “Thanks! Sure do ‘preciate it.”

The MP then asked if we could find our way back to the main gate. “No problem,” said Hannan, “Thanks a lot. You have a wonderful day now.” We were barely underway before I nearly lost it.

But before I did, Hannan asked, “I wonder if there’s some place we could grab a cup of coffee ’round here? The Army must have coffee early on a Sunday orning.” “Hannan, you’re crazy!” I shouted. “Relax John! I have to get some coffee!”

Soon we stopped next to a large, three-story, brick building about the size of a large high school. A ten-yard wide paved walk led up to two or three little steps before an entrance of double metal doors. We walked up to the door. There was a sign on the door. It read, “RESTRICTED AREA! UNAUTHORIZED ENTRIES STRICTLY PROHIBITED!”

The door was propped open a crack. “Mike, we can’t go in here. We definitely can’t go in here!” I emphasized. But Hannan insisted, “Look Maddog! The door is open. They surely have some coffee in here.”

We walked up and down a couple of hallways. When we turned a certain corner there was an open counter in the wall between the hallway and a room. Inside the room there were men in Army fatigue uniforms.

Hannan called, “Good morning! Got any coffee here?” A startled officer wheeled around. “Hey, how’d you get in here?” “Well, the front door was open,” said Hannan. And then he gave his AV Corporation routine.

The officer wasn’t very happy. He got us each a cup of coffee and told us we’d best get out of there pronto. As we climbed into the Pacer, Hannan said, “They weren’t too friendly in there, Maddog. They must be doing something illegal.”

Next, we drove to White Sands National Monument, which was about 25 miles further northeast. When we reached the entrance we saw that the park didn’t open for another 45 minutes. Nevertheless, the gate was open. And of course, Hannan drove through it. Yes, we got in free there too!

We drove another fifteen miles into the National Monument. There was no one else on the road or in the dunes. We parked and walked out into the white gypsum dunes to where one could see nothing but endless hills of shades of white, cream, and light gray amid the flat salt-pan valleys.

The sky had grayed from clouds that had drifted westward from the previous night’s thunderstorms in the Sacramento Mountains to the east. The ceiling was quite low and unusual for a summer morning in southern New Mexico.

Hannan had a field day taking pictures of the myriad forms of sandy ripples with their subtly-lit shadows. It was really quite beautiful. Or maybe it was just a delayed effect from the combination of a night of wine-drinking, gas fumes, coffee, smoke, and adrenaline.

Then all of a sudden – “BOOM! ROAR! boom! rumble!” A tremendous booming sound just broke into the nearly complete silence of the place. It startled us. It was followed by a very loud, deep rumbling sound.

At first, I thought it might be jet fighters from Hollomon Air Force Base. But there were no planes to be seen. The sound continued as a deep rumble for a minute or more. We figured that the initial loud boom continued as a series of lesser roars and rumbles by echoing off the clouds.

The sound was further trapped inside the Tularoas Basin by the high Organ Mountains and the San Andres Range to the southwest and west, and the even higher Sacramento Mountains to the east. The sound somewhat resembled that of rolling thunder from a large storm, but not exactly that either.

We left the dunes soon after the loud rumbles had ceased. Hannan drove back to Las Cruces. We probably slept a while. Hannan left eventually. I don’t remember whether it was later that day or the next.

A few days later I did learn that the loud noise was the result of a missile range test that used an explosive charge equaling that of a small thermonuclear device. In fact, it was the largest non-nuclear explosion ever conducted.

I learned that several railroad boxcars of the explosive were detonated nearly 100 miles from where we had been standing at the time.

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One Response to “Hannan’s White Sands Hum Job”

  1. Fool Says:

    I have no comment.

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