I had never heard of White Sands National Monument before we started planning our trip through New Mexico. Maybe it’s because I’m from the East Coast and I had never heard anyone talking about going there, but this gem of a park was not on our radar until we started looking for a stop-over to break up the trip between Albuquerque and El Paso, TX.
Our visit to the park began at the visitor’s center with a short video explaining why the sand is white, the animals that live in this unique environment, and an overall history of the region. Then we headed deeper into the park to experience the phenomenon for ourselves. The reflection of the sun off of the white sand is particularly strong, so sun protection is important. We chose one of the many roofed (shaded!) picnic tables to eat our packed lunch, but the kids were too eager to get out on the dunes to eat a whole lot that day.
We were staying at a campground in nearby Alamogordo (see campground review below) that had sleds available to borrow for trips to White Sands. Since we live in a place that generally has about 6-7 months of snow each year, sledding isn’t exactly exotic for us, but it seemed to be the thing to do at White Sands so we gave it a shot. The white gypsum sand has a different texture than the sand we’re used to. It feels more like baby powder or flour. But it isn’t slippery. So while it was exotic to sled down a sand dune, it didn’t go very fast and much of the time we were pushing ourselves down the hill with our feet. Maybe we were doing it wrong? It was fun and we took a bunch of pictures, but we also realized pretty quickly that this was not an all-day activity.
So we grabbed the park map and picked a few hiking trails. One was the Dune Life nature trail, a stroller and wheelchair accessible boardwalk with regular placards talking about different aspects of plant and animal life in this unusual habitat. It was a short, easy walk and we learned a lot.
Lizard tracks spotted from the nature trail
But we were also up for more of a challenge. So we drove to another trail head and exchanged the stroller for the backpack carrier. We found a loop trail that went up onto some dune ridges and wound around showing different examples of plant and animal life. We quickly realized that there really isn’t any footwear that is well-suited to such a trail, and it wasn’t long before the whole family was barefoot. Staffan, who generally prefers hiking barefoot anyway, particularly enjoyed this rare occasion when the rest of us also ditched our shoes. As much as we enjoyed sledding near the picnic area and the boardwalk nature trail, getting away from the road and crossing the dunes with the sand between our toes was definitely the best way to experience the park, in our opinion. It’s not a strenuous hike, but definitely something we’d recommend. The park also offers moonlit hikes and stargazing, and maybe someday we’ll go back with older kids who can stay up a little later to experience that.
During our weekend in Alamogordo, NM we stayed at the Alamogordo Roadrunner Campground. The campground seems to have changed quite a bit since we were there, including new ownership and becoming part of KOA, which they were not when we were there. The rates seem to have gone up a bit as well, but here’s a review based on how we experienced it:
Price: $29/night. We stayed 2 nights
Location: a relatively convenient 15 miles from White Sands National Monument. Just a short distance from the main road through Alamogordo, which offers a variety of stores and restaurants.
Facilities: sturdy concrete picnic table/benches, a light at each site. Bathroom/shower facilities were clean and reasonable.
Site-description: gravel sites, relatively close together
Neighborhood: there seemed to be a number of families that were living there long-term, which is a different environment than an RV park catering to shorter stays. This is probably a lot different now, though, if it’s a KOA. The staff was very friendly and helpful!
Comments: The opportunity to borrow sleds for free for our trip to White Sands was very much appreciated! I hope they still offer that! Sorry, we forgot to take a picture of the campsite.