Sparkling white sand as far as the eye can see. Groups of people having picnics. Mothers applying sunscreen to their families. Children and adults alike slipping, sliding, laughing, making designs in the sand.
A beach somewhere on the Gulf? No! A desert wonder known as White Sands.
White Sands National Monument is located outside of Alamogordo, NM and inside the White Sands Missile Range, a U.S. Army installation that is the location of the Trinity Site – the location of the first atom bomb explosion (*Side note: Trinity site is only open twice a year and is not a part of the National Monument*). Because White Sands NM is located inside the Missile Range, visitors need to check the park website before making travelling plans because once a month or so the Army completely shuts down the highway for missile testing.
The drive to White Sands is incredibly dull, with one notable exception: whether you’re driving from the south or coming in from the north, there is a moment when you cross either the Organ or Sacramento Mountains where you get a spectacular view of the valley below.
Much like some of the other places I’ve been, practically nothing is visible from the road. Even when you actually enter White Sands and start down the Dune Drive, there’s nothing but some unimpressive normal-colored sand dunes with typical desert vegetation (i.e. yuccas and other plants I had always considered weeds until the Southwest taught me otherwise). Finally after about 4 miles you get to the Interdune Boardwalk and the beginning of what you came to see 🙂
The Interdune Boardwalk is exactly what the name implies. Not incredibly exciting, but it is a smooth path, good for people who might not be able/comfortable walking in, or around the dunes, and there are informational signs about the vegetation that manages to grow through the sand.
Past the Boardwalk, the sand becomes more and more white (courtesy of gypsum) and the vegetation becomes fewer and further between until all that remains is the rolling sand dunes.
The cool thing about the Dunes Drive is not only driving through the magnificent natural wonder, but there are also numerous places to pull over and visitors are highly encourages to climb the dunes and play in the sand. The gift shop even has sleds for rent/purchase and you can see little kids and kids at heart squealing in delight as they slide down the dunes. You can always slide without a sled, but prepare to get sand everywhere!
Even though I’ve been to White Sands before, I can honestly say the thrill never gets old. There’s just something about seeing nature in all it’s glory that I can never get enough of!
Some random facts just ’cause:
- White Sands National Monument is actually visible from space! How cool is that?!
- There are ranger programs available for those interested, including “Sunset Strolls”
- There’s no water once you enter the monument, so come prepared. There are bathrooms available, but if you visit in the winter like me, be prepared to freeze your bum off
- Like I’ve told my mom before, you haven’t really had the Southwest travel experience until you’ve been stopped by border patrol at least once, possibly at some ungodly hour of the morning. So you always have that to look forward to!