White Sands National Monument

As you enter White Sands National Monument, the road runs alongside the edge of the dunes at first, then cuts into them.  Eventually…

Gypsum Road into White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

… the pavement disappears, and you’re left with a hard-packed sand surface.  The road is constantly maintained, so you shouldn’t run into many problems with drifting sand.  Every few hundred feet you’ll find a wide turnout, allowing you to climb up a dune, or tumble down it.

Interdune Boardwalk, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

The second trailhead you’ll pass (the first being the Big Dune Nature Trail) is the Interdune Boardwalk.  This handicapped-accessible trail is the easiest in the park to hike, since you never have to set foot on sand.  The walkway takes you 1/6 of a mile into the dunes, with a few shady benches along the way.

Tracks in the sand, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Look closely, and you may see signs of life, even here.

For handicapped or easy access, the Interdune Boardwalk is okay, but most likely, you’ll be up for a bigger challenge.  We’ll tackle the park’s longest trail on the next page.

Sopatree Yucca, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

On your way around the scenic drive, you’ll notice one of the park’s most common plants, the soaptree yucca.  As you continue towards the heart of the dunes, there are fewer plants, then, none at all.

Sopatree Yucca, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Just like US 70, White Sands National Monument may be closed on days when the military has planned tests on the nearby White Sands Missile Range.  The area may be off limits for up to two hours, enough to jeopardize a tight road-trip schedule.  Call the park a day ahead, or listen to local radio stations, which regularly report on closures.  If you’re delayed by a closure, consider driving back to Cloudcroft and hiking one of those trails, instead.

It should be obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway.  Wear sunscreen!  The sun is especially harsh out here, since it not only beats down on you from above, but also reflects back on you from the white sand.  I planned to put on sunscreen before tackling the Alkali Flat trail, but discovered I didn’t pack any.  Needless to say, I ended up quite red by the end of the hike.

White Sands National Monument is 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo on US Rte. 70. 

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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