The White Sands National Monument rises up out of the scrubby brown New Mexico desert like a far off dream. You might think you're seeing the purest, whitest snow imaginable, but get closer, and you realize that it's a hot, dry white powder covering the landscape for as far as the eye can see, rimmed by mountains on the horizon line. The fine, white dust covering the landscape looks like a million tiny hands clapped chalk-laden erasers to form undulating dunes of glistening white fairy dust.
When my husband suggested we go there on our trip to Texas in December, we had been driving through the California, Arizona, and New Mexico desert for several days. My initial thought was, "another sand dune. Big whoop."
My husband is a little obsessed with sand dunes. He spent the better part of his youth driving out to the California desert to photograph sand dunes and desert life in stunning black and white prints he made in his dark room (for you youngsters, that's old-school Photoshop with chemicals). He was a student of Ansel Adams in the early '80's, and we all know that Ansel loved him some stark landscapes. Any time there is a sand dune on a map, Frank will veer off course about a hundred miles or so to see it. Some people have a thing for Civil War battlefields or oddball roadside attractions or 1950's diners when they travel. Frank's loves sand dunes, so I've seen more than my fair share of sand dunes during our fifteen year marriage. I thought I had seen most of the world's variety of sand dunes, but White Sands was different from any other dune I'd ever experienced.
We pulled into the entrance to the park, and drove onto the park grounds and I was immediately taken aback by how blindingly white and spare the landscape was. There are very few trees or shrubs or plants of any kind other than a few scrappy, withering survivors. A lonesome-looking horned lark hopped across the road, but otherwise, there was no discernable wildlife. The gypsum-dust sands form ripples as the wind blows, rippling across the dunes, like a white chenille robe.
We got out of the car to walk around on the dunes, and I was surprised at how sturdy the ground was beneath my feet. I half expected to sink, like in a snow bank, or slide around a bit, but the gypsum dust was firmly packed beneath my feet, making it easy to walk around on. There were a few other visitors who came prepared with saucer sleds to slide down the dunes. I watched a couple of kids make several attempts at sliding, only to get about halfway down a dune and have to have their dad come and pull them the rest of the way. The sand was not really slick enough for sledding, but I gave them credit for trying. Alex tried to slide down, feet first, but ended up stumbling most of the way. By the time he reached the bottom of the hill, he was covered in white, powdery dust.
We hiked around the dunes for a while, then I broke off from the group to find the Little Outhouse in Big Dunes, which sat like a lonely sentinal on the outskirts of the parking lot. Off to the left of the restroom, someone had plaintively written "I Lost" in the dune. I wondered whether they meant "I'm lost," which would have been ridiculous, since they were right next to the the parking lot leading to a road back to the Visitor's Center. More likely, they meant, "I lost a bet, and my husband dragged me out to see another sand dune."
White Sands was designated a National Monument in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover. The difference between a National Monument and a National Park is that the President can designate a particular area a National Monument, but a National Park requires approval of Congress. White Sands National Monument is located on U.S. Highway 70, 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Alamogordo, New Mexica and 52 miles east of Las Cruces. It is in the middle of a US military missile testing range, so there may be days when the national monument is closed to the public due to missile testing exercises. Be sure to check the website
before you go so you won't be disappointed when you get there. Entrance fees are $3 per person. Children under 15 get in free. National Park Interagency Passholders can use their passes to get in free. Some special tours, including a moonlight bike ride, are extra. The Dunes drive is open from 7:00 am to sunset.
Toyota & National Audubon Society Exit the Highway Program
Toyota and the National Audubon Society are asking Americans to Exit the Highway and pledge to take the scenic route and enjoy the natural beauty of our great land. For their efforts, those who take the pledge will be entered to win a new, fuel-efficient Prius v, an environmentally-friendly hybrid vehicle featuring more cargo space. To start off, take the pledge at ExitTheHighway.com, or Causes.com/Toyota. You can earn extra entries into the drawing for a new Prius v by sharing photos tagged with #exitthehighway via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram accounts or manually uploading photos at ExitTheHighway.com. The website also offers you a way to:
- Explore nearly 100 nature destinations (70 of which are free to the public) along with a link to details and hours of operation.
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- Get personal recommendations from local leaders with a passion for caring for the environment.
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams...”
--Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the Toyota Women's Influencer Network through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of Toyota.
Photo Credits: All photos are © Glennia Campbell 2012.