In the southwestern corner of New Mexico lies a one of a kind type of sand dune, unlike any other type of dune. White Sands National Monument is the largest gypsum dune field in the world, providing miles of white grainy sand. White Sands has been on my “bucket list” and last week I finally had the opportunity to explore this area.
The interesting thing about White Sands is that it is kind of in the middle of nowhere. You either live near here and day trip in for a visit, or you are driving through to go somewhere else. The closest town of Alamogordo is 15 miles away and provides ample eating and lodging sources. If you are planning a trip to the dunes, give yourself enough time to explore the dunes and the town of Alamogordo. Since we were driving through, we spent 24 hours in the area and felt that was thoroughly enough time to enjoy the sites.
The town and the dunes are nestled in between two sets of Mountain ranges, the Sacramento Mountains and the San Andres Mountains. This view is of the Sacramento Mountains. As you can see, they make their own weather. I knew I wanted to be at the dunes around sunset so first, we set off to check out the New Mexico Museum of Space History. I would highly recommend this museum, with or without kids. It has great space artifacts such as moon rocks and replicas of satellites and missiles. On the walls, you will see photographs of all the people who have been inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame. On one of the higher floors, there is an excellent overlook of the Tularosa Basin, including Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. If you’re really into rockets, the Missile Range has a museum which is free.
White Sand Dunes National Monument
Before heading out to the dunes, be sure to grab any food you may want to bring because once you get there, there really isn’t much. Upon entering, you can get a map of the Dunes Drive when you pay the entrance fee. The fee is $5 for adults and free for children, or just show your Interagency Access Pass. **TIP #1: If you have kids and have the room, pick up a sledding disk at Walmart in town for $5. If you don’t have the room, I believe they may rent them at the Visitor’s Center. Although, if your kids are over the age of 8, I would pass on the disks. The dunes are not that steep and my kids (13 & 11) quickly lost interest.
As you could see from the first photo, the clouds were building up along the mountain ridges. I was hoping for a spectacular sunset but knew that I could also get nothing but cloud cover. As we drove out, we stopped along the Interdune Boardwalk. It is a short little walk and was good to stretch the legs. Here, you can view the vegetation and animal life such as this baby rattlesnake. I was told that snakes are not common, so some might say we were “lucky” to see this little guy. I’m not sure I would use the word “lucky” though. This is the closest zoom my husband could get without disturbing him.
After I ran back to the car, we proceeded to drive out to the Heart of the Sands area. The dunes are a touch steeper here and have less vegetation, providing the photography background I was looking for. It was beautiful hanging out and watching the clouds come in, the light going from light purple to deep blue. And although I did not get the gorgeous sunset I was hoping for, we witnessed an amazing thunder and lightning storm.
**Tip #2- Before you go, make sure you check out the notifications page on the White Sands website. It tells about heat advisories and road closures. The road to the monument will close if they are doing testing.
We had a great time visiting, as I am sure you will too. One last tip: the local Walmart offers great salads, fresh and ready to go. I don’t visit that many Walmarts, but I have never seen these large size ones before. They were perfect for bringing out to the dunes. We tend to eat large lunches and smaller dinners while traveling, so these were just perfect.
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