Saturday, March 5, 2016

White Sands National Monument

We arrived in Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2 days ago, on Thursday. First on our list of places to visit  was the White Sands National Monument, located about 15 miles to the southwest. The white sands of this area are formed from gypsum sand, and the monument covers a large part of the Tularosa Basin, a valley ringed by the San Andres Mountains to the west and the Sacremento Mountains to the east. The entire area of the white sand dunes encompasses an area of 275 square miles making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Satellite view of White Sands.
We started our visit by stopping at the Visitor Center, located on US 54/70. The Visitor Center has a gift shop as well as a short film on the area and a few small exhibits.

Visitor Center

Exhibit in the Visitor Center
From the Visitor Center, we drove into the dunes on Dunes Drive, an 8 mile road. The first half of the road is paved. For the first 2 miles or so, the dunes are not really visible. Slowly, the white sands begin to appear, intermixed with the native vegetation. Technically, the first section of the road is labeled a safety corridor, and no stopping is allowed. However, near the halfway mark, the Interdune Boardwalk appears. This is a good opportunity to walk out a few hundred feet on a secure boardwalk, with numerous information plaques.

Interdune Boardwalk
Just beyond the Interdune Boardwalk, the pavement ends. The remainder of the road is packed sand, ending in a loop with several day use areas. In these areas, you can wander the dunes, slide down them on sleds (which you can rent from the Visitor Center), and even hike.

Is it snow, or is it white sand?

The first 4 or so miles of Dunes Drive are paved, but the last 4, including the loop, are packed sand that is graded regularly. This really looks like snow.

The San Andres Mountains form the western backdrop for White Sands.

The Sacremento Mountains are in the east.

Alkali Flat Trailhead. Can you see the trail?
White Sands National Monument is a strange environment. It is a living land with a variety of plants and animals. Children love playing in the sand. But you have to put up with the sand, because it gets everywhere.

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