White Sands National Monument is a white washed oasis, comprised predominantly of the mineral called gypsum. It is truly one of the most unusual and beautiful landscapes in the US. Located in the northern Chihuahuan Desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, it is an easy drive from the airport in El Paso, or addition to any road trip like we are currently doing.
The white sand dunes cover over 275 square miles of the Chihuahuan desert, and the National Monument protects over half of the sand dunes. In 2019 White Sands National Monument was redesignated White Sands National Park by The United States Department of the Interior Office of National Parks.
The sands are unique here because they are comprised of the mineral gypsum which gives them their uniquely white color. In fact, it is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Military installations such as the White Sands Missile Range and the Holloman Air Force Base surrounds the area, so it is always important to check that there are no road closures to the area due to missile testing before you go visit.
You drive into the park on a paved road for a little while then it turns into a white sand road, almost looks like snow.
Here are a few tips for your visit to the park:
Stop at the visitor’s center which is an information center, a historical education center including a gift shop. You don’t pay your fees here but at the gate when you enter the park. The information about White Sands is very remarkable, there are videos and displays to teach you everything you need to know. At the gift shop, you can find many tourism-related items such as t-shirts, hats, mugs, keychains etc.
Admission is $25 per vehicle or if you get the annual visitor pass which is $80 it pays for itself after a few visits.
There are no designated trails on the actual dunes, adding to the fun and adventure. Walk as far as you like, climb up and down. You could see people all around climbing or sledding the ridges of sand.
Speaking of sledding, you can rent a sand sled or board just outside the park at the visitor’s center for $10.
Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. And wear sunglasses.
If you’re a photographer, then this is a perfect place to take photos here of mother nature and the beauty of planet Earth. The light changes all the time and plays beautifully on the dunes. When you walk deeper into the Chihuahuan desert, away from people and noise, you find yourself complete silence and soltitude.
Best time will be anytime but summer. We didn’t stay long because it was 87 degrees Fahrenheit but feel much hotter due to the light reflecting off the white sand. Go early or later and stay for the sunset. We spent about 2 hours and headed back on our road trip. Had it been cooler like spring or fall we would have stayed longer.
The smaller town of Alamogorda is nearby, and that was where we stayed. Plenty of hotel such as Fairfield, Holiday Inn, Days Inn etc
The park has 5 official trails and you can also “choose your own adventure” among the dunes, but it’s very important to remember that it is very easy to get lost among the sand dunes, so be careful if you decide to do this.
There are several picnic areas with restrooms but no running water.
The White Sands National Monument only allows for backcountry camping among the gypsum dunes, there is no car camping, or RV camping allowed. There are 10 formal backcountry campsites that require a 1 mile hike in to get to them.
White Sands has been featured in a long list of TV commercials, music videos, documentaries, TV shows, and feature films including Young Guns II, Transformers, Transformers 2, and Stargate Universe.
White Sands NP is definitely one of my favorite spots in the Southwest and hopefully these tips will help you prepare for your trip!