White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is one of the most beautiful, yet under-rated, natural wonders of America. Shockingly few people visit, or have even heard about it. During my recent trip, I was blown away by the beauty of the shimmery, white sands! Compared to the rest of New Mexico it’s completely out of place and random, but in the best possible way. 🙂
Where is White Sands National Monument?
I’m not going to lie to you, one of the reasons there are few visitors could be due to its remote location. White Sands National Monument is located in southern New Mexico near the USA/Mexico border. The closest major city is El Paso, Texas, an hour and 30 minutes drive away. That said, there is a smaller town just 18 minutes away (Alamogordo, New Mexico) where you’ll find food and accommodation.
From Alamogordo, New Mexico: 18-minute drive west
From El Paso, Texas: roughly 1.5-hour drive north
From Albuquerque, New Mexico: roughly 3.5-hour drive south
From Tucson, Arizona: roughly a 5-hour drive east
One of the best ways to experience the White Sands National Monument is to go backcountry camping. Backcountry camping is the only camping that is allowed in White Sands National Monument.
Backcountry Camping Details:
- Car camping and RV camping is not allowed.
- A permit is required – Only 10 campsites are available and operate on a first come first serve basis.
- Backcountry Camping fee is $3.00 per person
- No more than 6 people per site
- It’s about a mile hike to the backcountry campsite.
- Must vacate site by 1pm the following day
Why Does the “White Sand” Even Exist?
The white sands are created from the mineral, gypsum. White Sands National Monument is actually the largest gypsum dune field in the world! Thousands of years of wind and water erosion have broken down the gypsum minerals into selenite crystals. These crystals then break down even further until they are small grains of sand. New Mexico’s southwest winds then blow the gypsum sand into large sand dunes of various shapes and sizes.
Unlike other sand dunes, even during droughts gypsum dunes remain moist. This moisture prevents the dunes from blowing away entirely. Scientists are still baffled by this shimmering land, but the rest of us can just sit back and enjoy its beauty.
BONUS: Gypsum reflects light instead of absorbing it. This means you can walk barefoot on it (even in the heat of the day) without it burning your feet!
What To Do at White Sands National Monument
- Sledding – Sledding is a major activity on the dunes! You can pick up a sled at the gift shop or bring your own.
- Hiking – Head to the Visitor’s Center for the local hikes, there’s plenty!
- Dunes Drive – You can drive through the park and stop at your own convenience for photos. Takes roughly 45 minutes.
- Photography – White Sands is a photographer’s paradise. Come prepared with your best camera equipment, but be careful because it’s very windy. It took me forever to clean the sand from the tiny crevices in my camera.
Heart of Sands is where I took these sunset photos.
- Watch the sunset – The sunset in White Sands National Monument is the real reason I wanted to go. They are breathtaking and will leave you wide-eyed and speechless.
- Backcountry Camping – I highly recommend this! The night photography is unmatched and sleeping under the stars is magical.
- Bring plenty of water – It is a desert and can be extremely hot
- Bring Sunscreen or cover-up – It’s important to protect our skin out there
- Remember it’s a desert – Deserts experience dramatic temperatures. Prepare for hot days and cold nights. If camping bundle up!
- Closure for missile testing – Be sure to check the site before your visit. Sometimes the park closes for missile testing.
- Operating Hours + Seasons – Be sure to check the site before your visit. Hours of operation change depending on the season.
- Park Fees – $5.00 for adults (16 or older) and children are free. $30.00 for an annual pass.
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