I’m not sure what I was expecting the first time we drove out to visit White Sands National Monument.
Just an hour-and-a-half day trip from El Paso (driving through either Alamogordo or Las Cruces), it had been on our Fort Bliss bucket list for a while, and I can honestly say I hadn’t thought much about it until we decided to take off and go one Saturday morning.
I had no idea White Sands would turn out to be the most beautiful and fascinating place we would visit the entire time we lived in the southwest.
The park caught my attention, however, when we began to see mirage-like flashes of white on the horizon as we drove closer.
When we arrived, we stopped at the gift shop to get our passes and visit the mini-museum inside. Then, we set out on our way, armed with several gallons of water, sunscreen, and an amusingly large umbrella for shade.
The drive through the entrance of White Sands National Monument was interesting. We passed what appeared to be hills of snow, dotted with strange desert plants that must have been dreamed up by Dr. Seuss.
The further we followed the winding road, the larger the dunes became, and, after a while, it became easy to pretend we were on another planet.
When we found a good spot to pull over and park, we set out to do some exploring.
I immediately kicked off my flip-flops, only to find myself surprised by the texture of the land. Despite it’s name, the glittering expanse of white is not the kind of sand you’d expect to sift between your toes on a beach. It’s crunchier, coarser. Almost salt-like.
Our little one wasn’t sure what to think of it, at first, but he came around eventually.
The world’s largest dune field of it’s kind – some 275 square miles – is a miracle of sorts.
The sand is composed of gypsum mineral deposits that have been washed from the San Andres and Sacramento Mountains, broken down, then scattered with the wind across The Tularosa Basin.
Typically, gypsum would dissolve when it rains, but the desert conditions added to the lay-out of the land to set the stage for something rare and mysterious to happen.
On our climb up to the top of a dune, we spotted trails of tiny animal tracks that seemed to wander off into nowhere.
When we made it, we stood in awe of the vastness that lay before us. Nothing but waves of white for miles and miles beneath a wide-open, deep blue sky.
Occasionally, we’d stop and sit to watch late-summer rain clouds roll in over the strip of mountains in the distance. It was captivating to witness the clouds form, then dissipate, from so far away.
It’s definitely a surreal experience.
If you haven’t been, and you’re planning a trip out west (or expect to be stationed at Fort Bliss or Holloman Air Force Base in the future), I would definitely recommend you put White Sands National Monument on your must-see list.
We went back for a few day-trips a year while we lived in El Paso.
My favorite times to visit are in the morning and evening in the Spring (mid-March through early May) and Fall (September through November), when the weather is cooler, but, no matter when you go, I’d suggest packing for the trip like you’re heading to the beach – only bring a good pair of hiking shoes in addition to the flip-flops.
What to Bring
- Beach towels.
- A large umbrella for shade.
- Plenty of water.
- A picnic (there are plenty of spots to stop and eat, and a few even have grills).
- Sand toys for the kids (they also have sleds for purchase at the gift shop).
- A sketchbook/journal.
- A camera.
Free Pass for Active Duty Military Families
If you don’t have yours already, I’d highly recommend getting one for your family so you can visit this beautiful park (along with the others on the list) any time you’d like, year-round.
For more park information, including hours, directions, and a current schedule of events, visit: http://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm.
Have you visited White Sands National Monument? I would love to hear about your experience!