Dreaming of Travel: White Sands National Park
The vibrant white sand dunes of White Sands National Park can be seen miles outside the park as you drive into Alamogordo, NM. They roll over 275 square miles of the Chihuahuan Desert, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world. This is no ordinary patch of Chihuahuan Desert though. Here you’ll see plants and animals unlike any in the surrounding area, or in the world for that matter. All of it is preserved, protected, and managed by the National Park Service.
The unusually harsh environmental conditions haven’t stopped animal species from adapting to make this place their home. Tracks in the sand, especially in the early morning and late evening, betray their presence. There are over 800 species of animals in White Sands. Most of these are all white to better blend with their surroundings. With a bit of luck (or maybe some help from a ranger guide) you could see one of seven species of amphibians, 220 species of birds, 600 species of invertebrates, a handful of nocturnal mammals and snakes, or maybe even the White Sands Pupfish, a one of a kind desert fish.
Guided Hikes and Programs
While exploring the vastness and natural beauty of the park on your own is more than worth the trip, there are also plenty of guided programs and hikes available at the park.
White Sands is home to more than 40 unique species of moths. Join local moth experts for their annual Mothapalooza event celebrating the uniqueness of White Sands' ecology. Be sure to check the website for dates and details.
Take a tour to Lake Lucero, often called the birthplace of the dunes, and learn about the natural forces that created and help sustain the world's largest gypsum dune field. The tour is offered from October through March.
Sunset strolls are the perfect way to end your day and one of the most temperate times to explore the dunes without the New Mexico sun beating down on you. Enjoy a leisurely one-hour, ranger-guided walk across sand dunes and learn about the geology, plants, and animals of this unique area. The strolls are offered daily, except on Christmas Day, approximately one hour before sunset.
If you and your crew are night owls, try to catch a moonlit evening hike. White Sands National Park extends its closing time on nights when there’s a full moon from May through October and April through November.
Frequent National Park visitors will know all about the Junior Ranger Program, but for the uninitiated be sure to ask a ranger for details so you can start adding badges to your collection. Your kids will love learning about the park while exploring its unique habitats and wildlife.
Where to Stay
Hotel accommodations can be found easily in nearby Alamogordo, 13 miles from the park. The park itself doesn't offer hotel accommodations or RV/car camping, however, there is some primitive backcountry camping in the heart of the dunes (make sure to call or inquire at the visitor center about permits). You'll also find many public and private campgrounds and RV parks within one hour's drive of the park. The closest public campgrounds are at Oliver Lee State Park, about 24 miles southeast, and Aguirre Springs Recreation Area, about 39 miles southwest. In the summer, the Lincoln National Forest has several campgrounds in the Sacramento Mountains, about 40 miles east of the park. The National Forest is mountainous, green, and beautiful. The stark contrast between this area and the sprawling white dune fields makes for a truly memorable experience.
Don’t forget where you are. Any desert trip, whether you're hiking miles or sledding in one spot, will require abundant quantities of water and regular application of sunscreen. Not only is there no shade to protect you from the sun's harmful rays, but the white sand will reflect those rays back up to you making it seem even hotter.
Going to the dunes later in the day or on cloudy days can help to avoid the searing sun and boiling temperatures. Mid-afternoon trips to the park on sunny summer days may not be the best way for you and your family to truly enjoy the beauty of the sand dunes. Also, going after a rain shower can leave the sand packed more firmly allowing for much faster sledding runs! If you do plan on sledding on dry sand, be sure to bring along some surfboard wax. One coat a day should help your sled make it down dry, looser sand dunes.
Park Hours: Daily 7 am – 9 pm
Visitor Center Hours: Daily 9 am – 6 pm
Fee: Free with a National Parks Pass. $25 per vehicle which is good for 7 consecutive days. Sleds can be purchased at the gift shop but better deals can be found online.
Alamogordo, NM 88310
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