A New Mexican Gem- what to expect & how to plan your visit
Last Updated December 4th, 2019
White Sands National Monument is a hidden gem in the state of New Mexico. It’s best known for it’s beautiful dunes of, you guessed it, white, soft sand. Located in between the towns of Alamogordo and Las Cruces White Sands is a must see destination in South-Central New Mexico.
While planning a road trip can be difficult work, this guide will help alleviate the stress of planning your visit to White Sands.
If you ever find yourself on a road trip through the ‘Land of Enchantment’ be sure to add White Sands National Monument as one of your stops. Beautiful & serene, it was a stunning place hidden in the desert.
As an east coast girl, I knew little to nothing about New Mexico prior to my visit… apart from Walter White’s fictional take over and an assumption that there must be tumbleweeds everywhere. So, when I ventured there for a family visit with my boyfriend I was intrigued as to what he would have planned for us.
So, what exactly is White Sands?
It’s a nationally preserved destination in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico. Known for its white sand dunes that extend for miles. Every year the dunes shift and change with the wind making it a special place to visit every year.
Where to stay near White Sands National Monument
I would suggest staying in Las Cruces, New Mexico. While it’s an hour away from the dunes, it has the better hotel options compared to Alamogordo and is closer than El Paso, Texas.
Read More: Travel Guide to Santa Fe, New Mexico
How to get to White Sands National Monument
Driving from Las Cruces: take US-70 E for 50 miles, then turn LEFT onto Dunes Drive.
Driving from Alamogordo: take US-70 W for 8 miles, then turn RIGHT onto Dunes Drive.
Driving from El Paso: take I-10 W for 40 miles, then US-70 W for 7 miles, turn LEFT onto Dunes Drive.
My experience: After an evening in Las Cruces, we woke up early to reach this great natural wonder. Driving through the desert was stunning for sunrise; with little vegetation and vast open lands there isn’t much to hide the sun peaking over the horizon of the mountains west of Alamogordo.
As the terrain began to be hilly towards the end our drive we were able to see the tops of the white sand dunes in the distance. This sneak peek will definitely have you stoked to enter the park!
Check for road closures BEFORE you go
White Sands National Monument is close to the White Sands Missile Range. If you’re driving from Las Cruces or El Paso you’ll want to check if there are any scheduled missile tests prior to leaving. If so, the road leading to White Sands may be closed for over three hours
You can check the National Park Service website for closures.
Entering White Sands National Monument Park
Upon pulling into the parking lot you’ll find a visitor center with a small shop and museum displaying the importance of desert life and its wildlife.
Opens at 8:00am
Entrance Fee: only $5
*White Sands Travel Tip: I would suggest getting there in the early morning when it opens OR in the evening for sunset. Remember, it’s in a desert, so midday will be extremely hot.
What to do inside of White Sands:
As tempted as you might be to park at the first available spot within the park, don’t! Instead, drive as far back as you can to find solitude away from the other visitors. The park is quite large so drive to the back (before the road curves back towards the entrance).
The road in the park at the base of and in between the dunes. It’s quite scenic with over eight miles of glistening white, cascading dunes
Once parked get out of your car and walk around. Once you’re away from the crowds you’ll easily be able to secure an area for serene solitude.
*White Sands Travel Tip: We visited in the morning and were easily able to walk around barefoot. Unlike sand you find at most beaches, the sane here is cool to the touch and much easier to walk along than a coastal beach sand.
Be sure to bring a sled with you, or rent one at the visitors center. Call ahead of time to ask about sled rentals, as sometimes they run out. And don’t bother trying to sled with cardboard boxes like we did… they don’t slide (haha!)
What is the sand at White Sands made of & where did it come from?
The sand here made of gypsum – a solft, sulfate mineral -that’s been eroded from the nearby San Andreas and Sacramento mountains. Within the mountains are ephemeral lakes (lakes that fill up with precipitation & then evaporate), and when they evaporate the minerals left behind are transported by the wind and is what forms the dunes.
FUN FACT: gypsum is water soluble, so typically eroded gypsum would runoff to the ocean from rainfall, but White Sands is situated in a mountain basin with no access to leave. This is why it’s built up over time to create the white sands dunes we’ve come to cherish.
Read More: Plan your visit to Carlsbad Caverns
Top Tips for visiting White Sands National Monument
- Go early in the morning or at sunset; it’s in the desert, so the sun will be beaming. Best to avoid high afternoon sun
- DON’T leave trash behind
- Wear whatever you like! Since the sand is easy to walk around on & the dunes are easy to climb, ladies can comfortably wear dresses.
- Bring your own sled to slide down the dunes. (*we thought a broken down box would work…. It didn’t.) Or you can rent sleds at the guest center
- Bring a water bottle with you. There is only water at the visitor center, so bring your own out on the dunes if you plan to spend a few hours there.
Don't Forget to Pack:
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