Is this place even real???
White Sands National Monument was not initially on our radar because it was so far away from all of the other parks that we wanted to see. But after talking to our friend Cynthia, she convinced us to make the 7-hour round trip drive. She had visited the park on a road trip across the country in her 20s and is still very excited when she talks about it. She told us we absolutely could not miss this park.
We had an adventurous morning, which started with a sunrise hot air balloon tour over Albuquerque, then hiked through Petroglyph National Monument, and then we set the Jeep in the direction of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Las Cruces is best known for the White Sands Missile Range. On some days tourists can’t drive through White Sands National Monument due to the range’s missile testing. It’s best to check White Sand’s official website before going there.
As we approached White Sands, the scenery changed abruptly from the reddish brown sand typically found in the desert, to very fine white sand. It looked as though the area experienced a recent blizzard. I felt like my eyes were tricking me. We arrived a few minutes before the visitor center closed for the day, but were able to buy a sled to take to the dunes. Despite the late afternoon time of day, it was blazing hot. I know people tend to say it’s a dry hot and not as bad as a humid New England day…but this was the end of July in the middle of a white desert. It’s HOT. Even my eyelids felt hot. We didn’t let the heat get in the way of our desert fun, though.
The road starts with asphalt and quickly turns to hard packed gypsum. After strong winds, the rangers need to plow the dune sand from the roads. We parked a few miles into the monument, grabbed our sled, and headed up a dune to try the little saucer out. It turns out that sledding on sand is a little bit more challenging than sledding on snow, but it’s still a good time.
We loaded back into the car and headed toward the Alkaline Flat Trail. It’s a strenuous round trip 5-mile hike on packed gypsum. Beware that there is no water or shade at this location. Even after 5 p.m., we felt like we were hiking on the surface of the sun.
The trail is marked with red poles, but it is easy to get confused if you wander even a little bit off the trail to take photos. I would recommend going to this park with a buddy to ensure your safety.
White Sands is a surreal place. I think I say that about all of the national parks and monuments that we have visited, but White Sands is a really special place. I hope you can experience it for yourselves. If we were to come back to this monument again, I would go there at sunrise when the weather is cooler.