To check out the rare white gypsum dunes that comprise White Sands (we didn’t know about the sledding beforehand, it was an added bonus).
When We Went
September 2017. Days were hot and sunny, nights were mild.
Length of time
We spent one day in White Sands, a pre-planned destination as part of a larger road trip.
In total, we spent ten days venturing over 4,000 miles through the Southwestern United States:
Here’s the (approximate) route we took from Arizona to White Sands:
There is an entrance fee to visit the monument, or you can use your national park annual pass. I highly recommend getting one, a year pass will get you into all national parks, national monuments, federal lands, and is more economical than paying the entrance fee at each individual park.
I should also note that a pass covers the entrance fee for your entire car, not just the pass holder.
For more information on national park passes or to purchase one online click here (You can also purchase them in person at the park.)
Keep in mind White Sands National Monument closes periodically for missile testing, find information about upcoming closures here.
Rental Car. Not long after landing we picked up our rental car and hit the road. (We went with Hertz for ours, although they are lacking in customer service, their prices are low and I’m cheap.)
Airbnb. We used Airbnb. We booked where we would be staying each night ahead of time.
We found an Airbnb in Alamogordo, New Mexico, about 20 minutes East of White Sands. Only needing a place to do some laundry and crash for the night, we chose a budget-friendly “private room” option in couple’s home. It was your average-looking home in a suburban neighborhood, complete with a couple of friendly cats to keep us company.
White Sands is in the Chihuahuan Desert. Miles and miles of sand with nothing to block out the sun. It’s going to be hot. Be smart.
- Wear cool clothing
- A hoodie or light jacket for night time, it cooled off a bit at night
- I ditched my shoes and shuffled around the sand barefoot
- Don’t skip the sunscreen
- Stay hydrated. Bring a reusable water bottle, you can easily refill it at gas stations along the drive
- A cooler, stock it with sammies and snacks along the way
Pack a Cooler
The majority of our meals came from a cooler we kept in the backseat (we opted to bring a collapsible soft cooler on the plane to take along with us on the drive).
We’d just spent the last two days exploring various parks in Arizona, the last of which being the most bizarre, Petrified Forest, and were headed east back into New Mexico. We were stopping in Alamogordo for the night.
Our second pass through a small town in New Mexico was much like the first time around (the first time we went through Roswell). We rolled in on a Thursday evening. Everything was closed. There wasn’t much going on. We asked our Airbnb host for a recommendation on somewhere to eat and he suggested Applebees… a chain was not what we were hoping for. We drove around to hunt for somewhere more appetizing on our own but all we could find that was still open was a McDonald’s. Sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits it is.
But now for the real reason we made Alamogordo a must-stop on our road trip:
White Sands National Monument
An easy 20-minute drive east of Alamogordo on Highway 70 West is White Sands National Monument (check out their website here). We headed over when we woke up the following morning.
The Largest Gypsum Dune Field On Earth
Located in the Tularosa Basin, White Sands is the largest gypsum dune field on earth. Dunes made of this the mineral gypsum are very rare, it’s said to be so fine that it dissolves in rain like sugar in ice tea. (I’ve concluded that it must have been a Southerner who first made this analogy.) Once the rain evaporates, the gypsum remains behind as fine crystals.
We drove around the park a bit and before getting out and walking around.
The sand was pure white. I had to blink a few times, it closely resembled a field of freshly fallen snow. But the sun was shining hot. It continued to grow warmer as it climbed in the sky. The sand was fine and powdery white on our feet.
There were signs posted, warning visitors of rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any. (Yes, I’m that person hoping to catch a glimpse of one, I have yet to see one in the wild and find them biologically fascinating.)
We kept driving around and getting out to check out various spots before stopping in the Visitor Center.
That’s when we saw the sleds. Sleds!
Waves of nostalgia washed over me as I thought of the excitement a freshly packed snow brought when I was a kid. The countless times I’d gone to Laura Dodge park, the best park in Omaha for sledding, located right down the street from my childhood home (yes, it’s better than Memorial). The steep uphill climb to the top (I’m sure it seemed bigger as a child). Cold winter air blowing across my face. Bolting down the hill at top speed. Losing control and bailing into a snowbank. Excitedly climbing right back up and repeating the entire process until my toes were froze and Mom ushered us back to the house for a mug of hot chocolate.
I had to sled here. There was no way I was going to leave this park without sledding.
They give you the option to “buy” a saucer and wax and then you “sell” it back to them after you are done for about 3/4 the original price (it was pretty cheap, under $10 to use as long as your heart desires). We got one and set back out around the park, scoping for the perfect hill.
Once we found the ideal slope, I eagerly climbed to the top, hopped on my sled, and…barely moved before sliding off. I tried again. Same. Then it hit me. I was doing it completely wrong. I had reached that point of adulthood where I had become so unattached to my childhood self that I was botching an activity that at one point came to me like riding a bike (I had better ride a bike again, and soon). I got back on and thought it through more carefully this time. Got my legs situated first, ramped up my arms, and let ‘er rip. Better. Not great, but better this time.
We took turns going down several times each.
One last glide down the hill each before calling it quits.
We circled back around to the Visitors Center in the rental car, sold back our sled, and picked up a couple of souvenirs before setting off on the road again.
White Sands was the last national park of our Southwestern adventure.
Next stop: Kraus Springs, located 45 minutes outside of Austin, Texas, where we were to attend my cousin’s wedding in two-days time (the inspiration that sparked the entire road trip, thanks Lexi!)