The famous White Sands National Monument can be found in south-central New Mexico and is a fun stop for passer buyers and visitors traveling to see the national monument. The white dunes that can be seen rising from the earth in New Mexico are a stunning and surprising sight to those that may be driving by.
The dunes area created from gypsum and cover over 275 miles, making it the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The location is key in the creation of all this gypsum, and the surrounding mountain ranges are major contributors. Gypsum dissolves from the San Andres and the Sacramento Mountains and runs down into the basin in which there is no outlet. The gypsum dries and stays in the basin and eventually erodes into fine grains that make up the massive dunes. Visitors can hike and even sled down the soft dunes for an experience like no other!
Drive Through White Sands National Monument
Dunes Drive is the perfect way to orient you with the park and to see the magnificent dunes! The drive is 8 miles long and leads from the visitor center which is the main hub of activity out into the heart of the dune fields. The round trip is 16 miles, and it takes a little under an hour to complete. The road has hiking trails that lead off of it, outdoor exhibits, parking areas, and picnic areas. The first few miles of the Dunes Drive are paved, but the last couple of miles are hard-packed gypsum. The road can handle vehicles, buses, and motorcycles so many can drive on it to see the sights.
Ride Your Horse on the Dunes
Horseback riders are welcome to bring their horses or pack animals into the park as long as you get the proper permit at the visitor center or fee station. Riding trails are only for horse owners, not commercial vendors who are doing trail rides or the like. Horses and their riders have to stay out of the public areas so not to interfere with non-horse visitors. Ride your horse out amongst the dunes and soft sand like that of a beach. There are miles of riding opportunities available out in the sand for an unforgettable and beautiful experience.
White Sands national monument offers lots of exciting and fun ranger programs to participate in. Often these programs showcase some of the best of the park and are well worth the time to do. A great example is the Full Moon hike that is offered only once a month on the night before the full moon. See the white dunes illuminated at night by the huge moon glowing from above. There are commercial bus tours to see the park, full moon hikes, a sunset stroll, a Lake Lucero tour and sunrise photography get together. These are offered seasonally, and reservations are required for most to secure your place on one of these fun and exciting ranger programs within the park.
Sledding Down the Sand
The attraction that draws the most people and visitors to the park is the chance to sled down the dunes! Both children and adults will thoroughly enjoy themselves with this activity. Sand is not slippery, so it is recommended that sledders use waxed plastic snow saucers. Don’t have one? Don’t worry because the monument gift shop has them for sale. Visitors may bring their sleds too if they wish. Choose a dune to sled down, preferably one that has a mild slope and connects with a natural angle to the floor at the bottom to avoid injury. Grab your camera and capture the impressive sight of sledding down a dune in the U.S.!
Hike the Dunes
There are several hikes offered in the park to take to experience life among the dunes. The Interdune Boardwalk is a nicely constructed boardwalk that is wheelchair user accessible. It is under half of a mile and is a pleasant stroll through the dunes and takes about half of an hour. This is an excellent introductory and easy hike to see the sand.
The Playa trail is about half of a mile long and has outdoor exhibits to stop and see along the way. The Alkali Flat Trail is a more challenging hike that is 5 miles round trip. The Flat trail travels along what used to be Lake Otero. Although the name is the Alkali “Flat” trail, it is not flat. Visitors will be hiking up and down dunes the entire way for approximately 3 hours.
The Backcountry Camping Trail is a moderately steep trail that is about two miles in length round trip. Backpackers love this hike, but visitors can do it too, and it travels right through the heart of all the sand hills. There are a few other hikes to take in the park too, so get out there and see those gorgeous white hills.
Perfect Photography Moments
This national monument is a photographer’s favorite, and many travels to capture impressive images. The vast landscape and mountain ranges in the distance offer some fantastic photos. Sometimes large cloud formations seemingly appear out of nowhere and can change colors based on the sunlight and time of day. The best times are two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset as the filtered amount of sunlight makes everything beautiful. The mountains are bathed in a pink hue as the sun goes down. Plants like the yucca and attractions like the white dunes are stunning photography objects. Photographers beware, though because the sand can get into your cameras especially if it is windy and cause severe damage. Enjoy the unique landscape this national monument has to offer for your photo sessions!
Don’t Forget the VC
The visitor center of the White Sands National Monument is a great place to stop to get your sled, hiking info, maps, and directions, see exhibits, and much more! Enjoy the native plant garden located in the front of the visitor center has that native plants you can see in the Chihuahua desert. The park has an orientation film called “A Land in Motion” where visitors can learn how the dunes were created. The film won an award in 2012 and is worth the 17 minutes it takes to view it. Pets are allowed in the monument, just not in the visitor center. Ride your horse out in the white sand and take a hike through one of New Mexico’s marvels all located at White Sands National Monument.