After our second stay in Phoenix, we were so ready to get out of Arizona and experience a new state. We booked it east to New Mexico, where we met our good friend Abigail for a three-day exploration of White Sands National Monument and the surrounding area of Southern New Mexico. Here, pristine white sands were formed into tall dunes which glisten beautifully in the sunlight. If you are in New Mexico, this is something you do not want to miss!
WHERE we stayed:
We boondocked fifteen minutes outside of the monument, on the nearby air force base. The site is called Lake Holloman, and it is probably the most ideal campsite to visit White Sands National Monument from. It was a bit busy, but the sites were spread out enough to allow plenty of privacy. There were also plenty of walking trails around the sites, which I enjoyed each evening around sunset.
The lake is rather small, and the water is a bit smelly and not very clean, so I wouldn’t recommend swimming or paddling in it. The fighter jets fly overhead at various times throughout the day, which is rather neat to see. The winds here can be very strong, so be prepared to face these if you decide to stay here.
The nearest amenities are about twenty minutes away in the small city of Alamogordo. Here, you will find gas stations, hotels, a Walmart, and an Albertson’s Market.
WHAT we cooked:
We were at White Sands for Cinco de Mayo, so we decided to celebrate the holiday with street tacos and salad, which we enjoyed with Truly wine and homemade margaritas. It was quite the feast.
WHERE we dined:
We didn’t eat out in this area, but we have heard that there are some great restaurants in the town of Alamagordo. In particular, the burger place (Rockin’ BZ Burgers) and Mexican restaurant (La Hacienda) were recommended to us.
WHAT we did:
We visited White Sands National Monument during a single morning, in an attempt to beat the heat of the midday sun. Spoiler alert: beating the heat was unsuccessful.
Here, I’ll highlight our favorite activities in the monument.
This is your key to visiting any national park or monument. Here, you’ll find information on the best trails, the local flora and fauna, the formation of the park’s features, and the park’s establishment as part of the NPS. There is also typically a video with lots of information about the park. This particular park film highlighted the formation of White Sands National Monument, particularly its unique white color and dune structures.
Hike to Alkali Flat
This was the only hike [one-third of us] completed within the park. This hike is about five miles long and loops past the historic Lake Otero, a long, dry lake bed that was crucial in the formation of the white dunes. As the name misleadingly suggests, this trail is not flat at all. Throughout the entire thing, you are hiking up and down tall sand dunes. If you have ever walked on the beach, you know how difficult it can be to walk through sand. Throw in the fact that you are ascending structures made of sand, and you will have a tough time ahead of you.
We began this trail too late in the day (around 11am), and after hiking for about forty-five minutes, the ambient temperatures were nearly 100 degrees. In addition, we were hiking on white dunes that reflect the sun back onto you, and there is absolutely no shade to be found. Due to these factors, Abigail and I decided to turn back, while Bren went on and finished the hike. At least one of us made it, lol.
Hike another trail
Interdune Boardwalk is a .4-mile, accessible trail, built through a series of tall white dunes. The shaded canopies make this an ideal late-spring or summer trail.
The Playa Trail is another easier, family-friendly trail, totaling .5-miles round-trip. Here, you can follow the green trail markers to a playa area formed 10,000 years ago. This is another ideal, hot-weather trail because of its short distance.
The Dune Life Nature Trail is 1.6 miles in length and ascends two large dunes towards the end. This is the trail we would have hiked, had we not been overly-ambitious in the heat and the midday sun. Here, you can see the basic plants along the base of the dunes and feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with hiking these dunes, all without killing yourself on the Alkali Flat Trail.
Backcountry tent camping is allowed within the park boundaries along a moderate, 2-mile trail. This trail is similar to Alkali Flat and the Dune Life Nature Trail, but allows overnight camping. We didn’t have the opportunity to experience this, but our friends camped there and really enjoyed the silence and solitude of the dunes at night.
Sled or Sand-board
At the visitor’s center, there are sleds and sand-boards for sale and rent. This seems to be a popular activity for families and looks like a lot of fun.
We like to take pictures everywhere we go, but White Sands is a particularly lovely backdrop. The glistening hills against the purplish mountains beyond make for a unique and very photogenic backdrop. While staying at White Sands, we were preparing for an Apartment Therapy feature, and we decided to shoot the photos at the national monument. We think this made our photos particularly epic, but we’ll let you be the judge.
Tips and Tricks:
- Visit in cooler weather. The monument is open year-round, so why not visit when you can have a more enjoyable experience by avoiding being burnt or exhausted by the heat.
- Bring sunscreen and/or a hat! The entire park has little to no shade available and gets very hot by late-April. In addition, the dunes reflect the sun for higher ambient temperatures and more powerful sun rays. Any shade provided by a hat would be much appreciated by your skin and your body. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Wear sunglasses. In general, I hate sunglasses. I rarely, if ever, where them, as they give me headaches, and I don’t like the dark lens they place over my views. However, at White Sands, I stepped out of the car and immediately went back for my sunglasses. At one point, I removed them to wipe my eyes and was almost blinded by the sun’s reflection from the dunes. Bring sunglasses, and don’t take them off.
- Bring lots and lots of water. There is probably a refill station at the visitor’s center, but I wouldn’t rely on it, especially while hiking.
- Hike in the early morning. This is most comfortable heat-wise and will also keep you from burning your feet on the hot midday sand.
As you can probably tell by this post, I would have enjoyed White Sands much more if I had visited at a milder time of year. It was already blazing hot in early May, so I wouldn’t even want to think about the heat of the summer sun here. If you do visit in the late spring or summer, hike the shorter trails. Otherwise, definitely make it a point to visit this park in New Mexico. The white sands give the feel of a tropical vacation, minus the water. We will most likely return again one day, just in cooler weather.
Have you visited White Sands National Monument? How was the weather while you were there? Feel free to share in the comments below!