White Sands Monument – Everything you need to know || Travel New Mexico

White Sands Monument – Everything you need to know || Travel New Mexico

Imagine, looking at the horizon.  Dunes covering every direction. Sand everywhere, not brown, tan, or black.  White sand! White sand that looks like snow.

That’s what you’ll see at White Sand National Monument in New Mexico.

What and where is the White Sand National Monument?

White Sands National Monument is a U.S. National Monument, part of the National Park Service, located in New Mexico.  It is on the north side of Route 70 about 16 miles (26 km) southwest of Alamogordo. It sits at an elevation of 4,235 feet (1,291 m) i the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin and comprises the southern part of a 275 sq mi (710 km2) field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals.  

Why does White Sands have white sand?

The white sand is because of gypsum crystals.

Let me try to explain it in regular people words. (If you want to find the smarter words find it on the wikipedia page)

Most deserts are composed of quartz giving it the brown/tan color. But White Sand is made up of gypsum and calcium sulfate, which is white in color.  

Gypsum is a pretty common mineral but rarely seen because it easily dissolves in water.  This phenomenon was created because of good old mother nature and time. Back in the day, there were was a  mountain ranges and rainfall caused the mineral from the mountains to come off the mountain and end up in a basin.  Once in the basin or lake, the water had no way to leave except to evaporate. Thus leaving behind the gypsum deposits. The desert winds eventually caused the deposits to turn into a fine sand which later accumulated to what we now know is the White Sand Dunes.  

There you have it!  Now you know. You can use that in an intellectual conversation you have with that one friend who is know it all. 

White Sands National Monument is home to the largest gypsum dune field on the planet!  WOOOW! Add that to the random facts you know. 

The best time to go to White Sands?

We went in October (coupling it with the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta) and it was perfect weather, a beautiful 75 F (24 C).  I wore a dress and didn’t need a jacket at all, even when the sun was setting.

Read: 10 Tips to get the Best View of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Travel New Mexico

Opening hours for White Sands varies each season.  Occasionally, they perform missile test on the adjacent White Sand Missile Range causing a temporary closure of the park. Check their official website for hours of operation.

How to take the best pictures of White Sands?

Lighting

Golden hour was absolutely magnificent.  The white sand with the setting sun, it doesn’t get any better.  You’ll also get to see the beautiful purple mountains in the background right before it gets too dark to take pictures.  I imagine the sunrise would be beautiful as well.

Location

Once you get in the park entrance, you’ll be on the scenic drive route.  It’s 8 miles in and 8 miles back making it a 16 mile loop. Park somewhere at the end of the road because that’s the heart of the gypsum dunefield and where the dunes are biggest. 

You pretty much get free reign when it comes to where to go in White Sands.  It’s actually a bit scary to think there aren’t any trails or fences to warn you or stop you from continuously walking.

My advice if you want that wanderlust photo, the one that says “I’m the only person out here” is to walk past all the people there to just sled and find the first dune with not very many people around.  It’s more important to know where you are and how to get back to your car then to continue walking and getting lost. You do not want to get lost, I honestly don’t know how they find anyone with how open it is to walk around the park. Safety first!

Things to do in White Sands?

Backcountry Camping

For all the campers, get one of the ten primitive backcountry camping sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Permits are located at the visitors center before the cut-off time.

Driving Dunes Drive

Dunes Drive is the beautiful 8 mile (13 km) scenic drive, starting at the visitors center and taking you to the very heart of the gypsum dunefield.  It’s a round trip 16 mile (26 km). Put your windows down and enjoy the view.

Hiking

Hike one of the five established trails and enjoy the view.  It’s perfect for people who are a little more worried about getting lost

Sledding

An absolute must!  Don’t have a sled? Visit the visitors center and purchase one there. 

They sell new ones for $18 and if people return it you can purchase a used one for $10.  Purchase wax for $3.  

Depending on your group size, one or two will be worth it.  There were 3 of us and we just shared one. It takes a while going up and down the hills, depending on how tall the dune you’re walking up is.  After going down 3 times I was satisfied with the experience.  

How much does it cost to go to White Sands?

As of January 2019:

Price per person – $10
Vehicle – $20
Motorcycle – $15
White Sands Annual Pass – $40
Note: the lesser amount will be charged

How to get to White Sands?

If you need directions to white sand you can always use your trusty Google Maps, Wazes, Apple maps, etc. Search “Whites Sands National Monuments.” If you only put white sand you might be directed to the incorrect location,  the white sands missile site.

Public Transportation

There is no public transportation that will take you to the monument.  You’ll have to rent a car from Alamogordo, Las Cruces or El Paso.

Fuel

The nearest gas station is located in Alamogordo, which is 15 miles (24 km) east of the monument. Las Cruces is 52 miles (84 km) from the monument.

Tip: Fill up your gas/diesel tank in one of these two cities before driving to the monument.

Directions to the Monument

The visitor center and Dunes Drive is located directly off of Highway US-70 between the cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces. The entrance to the monument can be found between mile markers 199 and 200 on Highway US-70. 

Remember to search: Whites Sands National Monuments

Where to stay to visit White Sands?

The closest city bigger cities are Alamogordo, Las Cruces and El Paso. You can find a variety of motels and airbnbs there.

We stayed in an airbnb in Truth or Consequence.  A 2.5 hour drive from White Sands, Truth or Consequence is known for the mineral hot springs.  The airbnb we booked had its own mineral hot spring in the backyard. After a day of playing in the sand it was nice to soak in the hot spring.

Cost of a trip to White Sand from Albuquerque

Transportation: (rental car for a day) + (gas) = 
Admission: $0
Food: $40 (dinner)
Accommodation: $218 (airbnb)
Miscellaneous: $12 (sled)
Grand Total:
Per person total (/3):
*The total was calculated using the amounts we spent for our trip.
**We got admission paid for because we were going near closing time.

Thoughts

I didn’t know something this beautiful existed, let alone in New Mexico. (No offense New Mexico…) But boy does this state have some pretty sites. Between seeing the hot air balloon festival and White Sands, our Instagram and this blog has some nice pictures.

Justine Alonzo
Justine Alonzo

Justine is a bubbly, outgoing creative who has always loved traveling. Growing up, her family took trips to the Philippines, the Bahamas and road trips all over California. A collector of pressed pennies, unique postcards, quotes from other travelers. She is always drawing, especially while she travels.

Find me on: Instagram

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