White Sands National Monument, a magical place

White sands - viewWhite as snow is the sand at White Sands National Monument. A propper mind fuck when driving thourgh the park, seeing a road being cleared by a snow plow, whilst driving with the window open and a warm breeze in the face. It’s not the biggest park within the park service, but magical nonetheless. What is even more magical is the experience you have when you take of your shoes. It can be a hot day but still the sand will feel cool to your feet.

I had a great time volunteering for five months in this park. Working at the visitor centre and performing multiple programs. On first sight the park might come across as a superficial beauty, but once you get to know her it turns out there’s a lot more to her.

I hope you get to see the park one day and hopefully she’s willing to reveal all her secrets to you.

History

The monument was founded in 1933 by president Herbert Hoover. People of the neighboring town of Alamogordo wanted to protect the sands from money hungry exploiters who wanted to use the sand for industrial purposes. The sand of the park is unique since it’s gypsum instead of the regular quartz. A mineral so soft you can scratch it with your fingernail. Gypsum is usually used as wall plaster on houses. So you can see why people wanted to make a profit out of it.

The history of the site dates back a lot further. In short the area was once a shallow inland sea, resulting in various deposits that were left behind. Some deposits contained a lot  of gypsum. Then the land was uplifted and then a part fell back down again, forming a basin. Water washed the gypsum out of the rock layers into a lake in the basin. Drier weather dried up the lake and the gypsum crystallized, and then started to break due to wind, warmth and cold. The broken pieces eventually turned into the white sand of the park.

Traveling to White Sands

White Sands - hikeThe park is located in the south of New Mexico. The closest town is Alamogordo and has its own small airport. The biggest closeby city is El Paso, just over in Texas.To enter the park you take highway 70, passing either through Las Cruces or Alamogordo. Most visitors come by car or motorhome, but I’ve also seen people on bicycles and motorbikes. The park only has one road going in and out through only one entrance.

White Sands Missile Range

When you plan to visit on a tight schedule make sure that the park and roads will be open. At various times the missile range will be testing, resulting in closures of roads and the park. To be sure that the park will be open when you’re visiting call ahead or check the website.

Where to stay

Alamogordo offers loads of accommodations but if you want to stay in the park you have to bring your tent. Reservation for a camping spot is not possible, it’s first come first serve. To camp in the park is a unique experience since it closses down at night and you get to stay in the middle of the dune field. Another option is to camp for free in a small recreation area between the park and the air force base.

Hikes

The park offers five hiking trails, the shortest is only 15 minutes long and the longest takes about three hours to complete. The trails are located in different type of terrains of the park so when completing all you have seen the variety of the park.

White Sands - trail markerThe Alkali Flat trail is the longest hike in the park and is marked with colorful trail markers. The wind however sometimes blows the markers over, but usually you can see more than enough markers around to not get lost. I’ve hiked the trail once completely barefoot, a great experience.

If you’re an experienced hiker there is one other great thing to do. Going off trail. Really explore the park in your own way. Being the only person leaving behind prints in the sand and not following the ones of everybody going before you. Just make sure that you know what you’re doing because this park is one of the easiest to get lost in. No obvious markers that can tell you where you are, and every dune looks like the next.

Ranger programs

White Sands - programThe park offers a variety of programs, year round, some are free, some have to be reserved. The sunset stroll is a daily program that anyone can join, easy and entertaining. It’s a program I performed weekly and was a lot of fun to do. There is a tour that will take you to the origin of the sand, Lake Lucero. A program only performed in summer are the full moon events. Unfortunately it’s something I didn’t get to experience since I was there in winter. But I did see what the park is like under the full moon, and I promise you it’s amazing. Make sure you check when programs are performed since many need tickets and are popular. You don’t want to miss out on great events when you are there.

What else to do

The most popular thing to do at white sands is the sledding. Bring one yourself or buy one in the giftshop. Going down the steep dunes is a thrilling experience you shouldn’t miss out on. And don’t forget that you’re never too old to feel young.

White Sands - pedestalMany people take the opportunity to take stunning pictures in the dunes. The white sand will make any picture look amazing. Professionals noticed this too so the park is often used for fashion shoots, commercials, music videos and even movies.

The park is very popular for picnicking, many locals will come to the park in the weekend.

When staying longer in the area there is a lot more to see and do. For instance also visit the Organ Mountains, Lincoln National Forest, the missile museum, the solar observatory and many other things.

Websites

White Sands National Monument – https://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm

Closures – https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/monument-closures.htm

Camping at White Sands – https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm

Free camping – https://www.campendium.com/lake-holloman

Ranger programs – https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/ranger-programs.htm

 

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