After being in Texas for almost 2 months, we moved on to Alamogordo, New Mexico on Sunday, February 12th. The main attraction there, well really the only attraction, is White Sands National Monument. I was trying to think of the words to describe it, but the National Park Service website has a great description, so I’ll just share what it says. “Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico.”
They really are a site to see! The White Sands dunes, made of gypsum from an ancient sea, have engulfed 275 square miles of desert. A large portion of the dunes are used for missile testing by the Air Force, but we are thankful for the part that is preserved by the NPS for us and all others to enjoy.
During our two week stay in the area, we went into the park three times, and did just about all that it has to offer. We stayed at the Alamogordo KOA, just 20 minutes from White Sands, and drove in for the first time that Wednesday evening just in time for the Sunset Stroll.
A retired park ranger took the group of us on a little nature walk through the dunes. We stopped at several points on the walk and listened as he shared some interesting information about the plants, wildlife, and landscape.
At the end of the stroll, we paused for a moment to watch the sun sink down behind the mountains and cast a glow over the white sand.
That Sunday, we went back to the National Monument. Sledding down the dunes is the thing to do there, so we thought we’d give it a try. The Visitor’s Center has saucer sleds for rent, so we stopped in there first. Lucky for us, a nice lady gave us hers rather than standing in line to get her deposit back. We later found out that the KOA loans out sleds as well.
We had fun sledding down the dunes, but going back up the sand was exhausting! Our main objection for the day was to do a hike, so we only did a few passes up and down the hill so we didn’t get too worn out.
The main trail to hike at White Sands National Monument is the Alkali Flat Trail. Although the name of the trail is Alkali Flat, it is anything but flat! It’s a strenuous 5 mile hike that takes you through the heart of the sands, up and over steep dunes, to the edges of the Alkali Flat – the dry lakebed of an ancient lake. There is no “trail” per-say just a bunch of markers, like the one pictured above, that let you know you are on the right path.
There are signs before you go out on the trail warning you that there is no shade or water along this hike and to only go on this hike only if you are prepared. It is recommended that you do not start the hike if the temperature is at or above 85°F and to bring a minimum of two 32-ounce bottles of water per person. It was definitely a different type of hike than we are used to, but we were prepared and up for the challenge.
It was a difficult hike for sure, but worth it for the views of undisturbed wavy white sands with the mountains in the distance. We enjoyed the peace and solitude of being the only people around.
If you visit White Sands and you’re not up for a 5 mile hike through the dunes, there is the Interdune Boardwalk, which we checked out out on another day. It is an elevated boardwalk that leads you through the fragile interdune area to a scenic view of the dunes and the Sacramento mountains. There are plaques along the way that provide information about the wildlife that lives in this harsh environment and geologic conditions that created the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.
After doing the short half mile boardwalk, we messed around in the sand some more. It was a bit chilly and windy that day, but that didn’t stop us from having some fun!
We also got some more use out of the sled. And some exercise climbing up this big dune over and over!
White Sands National Monument was such a unique and amazing site to see. We are so glad that we got to see this great natural wonder, this desert within a desert, that is like no place else we’ve ever visited!