The surreal environment of White Sands National Park in southwestern New Mexico was designated to a national park in 2019, although it dates back to the Ice Age. The bleached sand is made up of particles of gypsum that are 30 feet deep and rise up in 60-foot dunes, and the area that was previously covered by a primordial sea is now barren desert. It’s the world’s largest gypsum desert, and the surrounding missile range’s booming rocket noises only add to the park’s strange mystery.
The dunes are mixed with areas of tall grasses as you enter the park, but after a few miles, the scenery is nothing but clean sand. Because the park only has one road, it is one of the most easily accessible national parks to visit. There’s no way to be lost on the road, regardless of whether your GPS is working or not—hiking inside the park, on the other hand, is a different matter.
Best things to do
White Sands may appear to be a simple stretch of white sand at first glance, but there’s a lot to see and do there. Popular activities include hiking, horseback riding, scenic drives, biking, sunset strolls, garden tours, and, of course, sand sledding.
The visitor centre, built in the 1930s, is a stunning example of traditional Spanish pueblo adobe architecture. Visitor guides, maps, food, and keepsakes can all be found inside. Because the scenery here is exposed to the sun and summer temperatures routinely surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll also want to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. As a result, the best times to visit are in the morning and evening to avoid the heat.
If you only have time to drive around the park, a lap around Dunes Drive in your automobile will reward you with spectacular views. It feels like you’re travelling through another planet as you drive over this terrain, and it’s especially stunning after sunset.
The park offers a variety of ranger programmes that shed additional light on the dunes’ remoteness and terrain for a more educational experience. The most popular are the one-hour sunset strolls, which are available every night of the year save Christmas. From April through October, sign up for a nocturnal trek or attend the monthly Full Moon Night, which features live music and artists.
How to Get There
White Sands National Park is 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo and 52 miles northeast of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico. If you have the time, larger towns are also easily accessible, with El Paso, Texas, about 96 miles south of the park and Albuquerque, New Mexico, about 225 miles north.
It’s a simple park to visit and traverse whether you’re in an RV or a car, thanks to its easy structure. The sole way in and out of the park is via I-70 and Dunes Drive, which leads to the visitor centre and on a long loop road past the park entrance into the park’s heart.
Keep in mind that due to missile testing at White Sands Missile Range in the northern half of the dune field, the park shutters for a few hours at a time. While the tourist centre and gift shop are open regardless of road restrictions, no activities such as hiking, sledding, or driving are available during missile tests. Before you go, check the visitor center’s website for the most up-to-date information on closures or phone the visitor centre.
White Sands National Park Hiking Trails
Dune Life Nature Trail
Backcountry Camping Trail
Alkali Flat Trail
Where to Stay
Although there are no campgrounds within the national park, surrounding places offer RV and tent camping. Aguirre Springs Recreation Area is about 40 miles southwest of the White Sands and provides campsites. Oliver Lee State Park is about 24 miles southeast of the White Sands and has campsites.
Experienced campers are welcome to pitch a tent inside the park, but they must first get a backcountry permit from the visitor centre. The pleasure of nighttime in the park under the sky is unrivalled, but be mindful of the dangers. Temperatures can range from sweltering during the day to below freezing at night, and thunderstorms can strike suddenly and without notice.
Alamogordo and Las Cruces, the larger city, are the closest towns with a variety of lodging alternatives. Both have reasonably priced motels, bed and breakfasts, lodges, and cabins. For something a little more boutique, Las Cruces has the Hotel Encanto, an ornate property with architecture and design evoking Mexican haciendas and historic Southwestern style—arched doorways, lustrous tiled floors, and fresh New Mexican dishes like braised beef empanadas, sopapilla fries, and chicken flautas with chile con queso—at Garduo’s Restaurant & Cantina.