White Sands National Monument
White Sands was a special place for us to visit. In August 2017, we made our trek from the Carolinas to Las Cruces, NM to pick up our beautiful, new-to-us Airstream. On our way back from Las Cruces, we passed this monument on Highway 70 and decided we didn’t have time to stop since we had to make it back to NC. Ever since then, we’ve been looking forward to returning.
It’s even more sentimental that we came back to this place on our return trip to NC to see family for Christmas. We drove the same roads through Las Cruces and Alamogordo that we drove when we were complete newbies towing our Sadie. How things have changed since that day!
Well, our trip to White Sands was worth the wait! I highly recommend adding this to your Bucket List if you have one. It feels like you are on another planet with the white, rolling dunes as far as you can see and San Andres mountains in the background. The sand is made of Gypsum, which you’ll learn about in the Visitor Center. Gypsum is water soluble, so these dunes can only exist here because of the super arid climate. They appeared when water containing gypsum evaporated, leaving stalactites of the crystal behind. When these break down, they form this beautiful white and glittery sand which makes up the largest gypsum dunefield in the world - right here in New Mexico.
You’ll notice there are sleds available in the Visitor Center, and once you make the drive into the dunes you’ll realize why! While we didn’t do this, we saw many who had come to picnic and sled the dunes. It looked like a blast! Maybe next time we visit we’ll have kiddos of our own in tow and we’ll do this as well. The drive is very cool itself. It’s 8 miles into the heart of the dunes, with the first 4 being paved and the last 4 being compacted gypsum roads. It looks so much like plowed snow we had to convince our brains it was actually a sand road we were driving on!
We hiked part of the Alkali Flat trail, which is a 5 mile hike that takes you through some of the largest dunes to a huge dry lakebed. Butttttt we quit following the trail markers about a mile in and started exploring “off the beaten path” (there really is no beaten path through the dunes).
We also met the nicest guy with his Australian Cattle Dog who chased us down to tell us about the cool pictures he had snagged of us on the dunes. He emailed them to us first thing in the morning too! I always appreciate people that do this, since we get very few pictures of all of us together on this trip.
If you make it to this gem of a national monument, I’d recommend staying until sunset. It is a magical time of day here. If you find a tall dune to sit on, you’ll have panoramic views of the mountains as the sun sinks behind them, leaving the other side of the mountains purplish-pink. The sand seems to absorb sound similar to how snow does, so it’s very peacefully quiet. Also, the whiteness of the sands is the only contrast to the colorful skies at sunset which just makes everything stand out that much better.
Another cool thing about this place is missiles are tested nearby, and they sometimes fly over the dunes, break apart, and are covered in sand. If you’re lucky, you may find a piece of one! But they will warn you not to mess with these, as some may not have detonated and could be dangerous.
We did break the rules and let the dogs run free for a bit, but typically dogs are allowed only on a leash here. We had their e-collars and made sure they never went too far though.
So where did we stay during our trip to White Sands? Well, we actually camped for FREE at the nearby Holloman Air Force Base. There's a lake there with a road and dry camping spots surrounding the lake. It was perfect since it's only a few miles down the road from the visitor center. And we had lots of space without being cramped up next to other campers. Below are some pics we took before we headed out to White Sands for the day.