Tucked away deep in the heart of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin sits a place like no other on Earth- White Sands National
Rising out of the desert and encompassing nearly 275 acres these massive white sand dunes are not only the largest gypsum sand dune field but are also the closest thing to walking on Mars you can experience without leaving Earth!
Crazy, we know, but it’s true. Gypsum is a soft white mineral consisting of hydrated Calcium Sulfate that usually appears in the form of crystals, as the winds of the desert blow these crystals are broken down into finer and finer particles until they eventually form the massive dune fields of White Sands. Oddly enough NASA scientists have identified large surfaces of the planet covered in gypsum that look very similar to parts of the White Sands National Monument! And now you know!
You could easily spend a day just staring in awe at these amazing natural structures, and while staring at nature is fun getting out and experiencing it is even better! The two best ways by far to do that at White Sands National Monument comes in the form of sledding and sunsets!
If you’re cocking your head to the side and wondering what the H E double hockey sticks sand sledding is, that’s ok we thought the exact same thing! Turns out its THE THING TO DO when visiting White Sands. Turns out all you need for a day on the slopes- er, um, dunes is a plastic saucer sled and some form of wax for the bottom of your sled, we picked up a $1 candle from the dollar store- worked like a charm!
You can pick up a sled at the park for around $20 and a small thing of wax for $2 or you can save some dough and shop locally. We picked up our sled from the Big 5 Sports Store in Alamogordo ( 3312 N White Sands Blvd) $10 and snagged a candle to use as wax from the dollar tree.
Things to keep in mind while picking out the perfect sledding hill, er um, dune:
- Keep off the vegetation: it is hard for almost anything to grow in this harsh environment but small shrubs can survive. Park Rangers ask that while you enjoy your sledding experience you don’t ride over any of the shrubs and other growing things!
- What goes down must go up: Keep in mind if you sled down it, you have to go back up it! We found steep dunes made for the best sledding but it also gave us a heck of a leg workout climbing back to the top!
When we arrived in town we had heard from several locals that the sunsets were not to be missed at the dunes- and man oh man are we glad we took their advice! This was a sunset for the record books!
Its almost impossible to not pick a good spot for a sunset in the park but for optimizing your view we recommend taking Dune Drive ( the only road in the park) to the very end and parking at the lot for Alkali Flat Trail and walking dead West into the dunes, facing towards the mountains. Pick your perfect spot, settle in and enjoy an epic evening.
Keep in mind, this is one park where you don’t need to stay on the trail BUT you should always be aware of the direction in which you walk as high winds can easily wash away your footprints and this is not a place you want to get lost in!
Plan Your Visit:
A day at the dunes can be an exhausting one! There is no water available within the park and even in the cool and windy season of Winter and Spring, you can easily get sunburnt from the reflection of the sun off the dunes!
If you’re planning a visit here are some things not to forget to bring with you:
- Camera: Cell phones, DSLR or Action Cam, any camera will do! Just make sure you don’t forget one! Anyone can be a good photographer with epic views like these! If you’re interested in our camera gear you can find out more about the gear we love here.
- Water: Once past the visitor’s center there is no water stations available in the park, so make sure you pack some in with you! All that climbing up and down the dunes will make you thirsty! We never leave home without our Hydro Flask water bottles- they keep ice for hours even in extreme heat!
- Sunscreen: Even on a chilly day you can easily get sunburnt from the sun reflecting off the dunes. Make sure you pack some sunscreen. We love Sun Bum for all our SPF needs!
- Hats: Keep the sun and the wind out of your face! A hat is must when visiting White Sands!
- Sweater or Jacket: It can get chilly in the evenings, especially when the wind starts blowing, don’t forget to throw some warm layers into your pack to layer on while waiting for the sun to set!
- Plastic Sled: Saucers are the most popular form of sled used here, but you’re free to get creative! You can buy your sled locally and save some cash (about $10) or directly at the visitors center (about $20), if you want to be super prepared you can order yours ahead here from Amazon.
- Wax for your sled: A cheap candle works perfectly we grabbed ours from the local dollar tree.
The Visitor’s Center which serves as the gateway to White Sands National Monument can is located 15 minutes outside of the town of Alamogordo, NM off of US Highway 70 on the North side of the road.
Our visit to White Sands National Monument was memorable, surprising and downright fun! Have you ever been sand sledding or ran into an unexpected adventure? We’d love to hear about it, share your story with us in the comments!