The Worlds Largest Gypsum Sandbox
Hidden in the depths of the Organ and San Andres Mountains is the White Sands National Monument. A magical vast expanse of powdery white gypsum sand has been left eroded from the nearby San Andres Mountain and the experience is nothing short of feeling like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Circa 2001 – that’s a big deal.
After seeing pictures of what looked like an calm apocalypse (it is located right next to an American missile testing base) I knew I had to visit, and luckily it was under an hour drive from Las Cruces. The drive along highway 70 is scenic and intriguing, passing through once-ghost town Organ and past panoramic mountain views.
Once past the entry booths a paved passage that winds between heaping dunes disappears and suddenly you are driving on pure sand. There are ample parking stops, lookouts and trails spanning from quick walks to multi-mile hikes. There are many options for enjoying the dunes including camping, sledding, picnicking and even horseback riding (BYOH – bring your own horse).
We stuck to simply climbing the white sands, which did not disappoint. The moment we pulled up to a gigantic dune, Tim and I looked at each other, shrugged and agreed “we take our shoes off right?” We spent over an hour simply trotting between dunes, sliding down the soft sand and acting like toddlers.
If you like danger you are in good hands, this happens to be my favorite part of the White Sands website :
“Unexploded Ordinance: We are surrounded by an active missile range. From time to time, debris from missile tests falls into the monument and is buried by sand. If you see any strange objects, do not touch them as they may still be able to detonate. “
At no point during our visit did we encounter strange items or feel in danger. However, we did hear military jets flying overhead and an explosion at one point. I’m not exaggerating, as we were headed home there was still a smoke filled patch nestled in the mountain where whatever “testing” being done was still cooling off. The entire experience at the White Sands National Monument was surreal and highly recommended.
Pro-tips from yours truly:
1. Don’t worry about appropriate footwear, you wont need it. Obviously be careful when stepping in the “harder” packed down areas. Otherwise it’s like a perpetual soft foot buffing.
2. Definitely bring water and snacks. There is a gift shop at the White Sands but prices are inflated. Besides, when has 250 ml of water ever quenched anyone? Hit a gas station before heading out and get a great big 2L jug for less than 2 bucks. Once you drive out into the dunes the gift shop is quite a distance. It would be a shame to leave because of dehydration. There are outhouse-y type structures throughout the dunes.
3. At risk of sounding like a mom, bring a damn hat, sunglasses and some sunscreen. I laughed this advice off, but when that bright desert sun hits (and reflects) off the pristinely white sand not only is it blinding but its essentially a million laser beams trying to burn you. Ok, I went a little far there - but it does really get hot.
4. If you want pretty Insta Pics bring a change of clothes. My best move was dressing comfy for the drive in and having different clothing options. My short pleather super sun absorbing skirt was adorable, but also ridiculously impractical. I was so happy I brought shorts along so I could cartwheel and run around like a maniac unworried about where I would find sand later.
5. Admission into the White Sands National Monument was 5$ per person, well worth it in my opinion. Check the website before going – actually check the website, at times highway 70 closes due to missile tests.
6. Driving on sand sounds very desert chic but in actuality it was really difficult on the car. Mini ridges span almost the entire route, so prepare to drive slowly and maybe avoid brining your lowered corvette. (as one gentleman thought was appropriate)