Wondering what the world has to offer besides the turquoise blue waters and lush green lands? Craving a not-so-usual vacation exploring the unseen and the unordinary? Imagine yourself in a cold white desert and think how picturesque the white sand dunes look when they lay flat as far as the eyes may see.. Guess, you no longer just have to imagine!
From the countless natural wonders the earth surprises us with, on our list today is the White Sands National Park; a location bearing crystalline gypsum on over 275 square miles, a sight that pleases all of our senses. Located about 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo on US 70, the national park is a reservation of snow-white dunes formed by the abundance of rare gypsum and is home to many natural lakes, hiking trails, desert sports, and exploration centers.
Let's delve into the list of not-to-miss places in the White Sands of New Mexico before you hop on the journey to explore the glistening dunefield.
Amidst the white sand mountains that go on forever, your companion is the Interdune Boardwalk that elevates you from the fragile sand dunes while casting your way to the view top. Along the boardwalk, there are several informational signs to help you learn about the type of vegetation, wildflowers, and wildlife that inhibits the area, keeping up with your spirit of exploration.
The boardwalk is an easily accessible and family-friendly trail. Engulf in the calmness of the dunefield on your way while resting on the benches positioned for every visitor’s ease.
White Sands National Park Visitor Center
The national park welcomes you with a Pueblo-style visitors center; your stop to explore, learn, and commence the journey from. The terracotta tiled walkway inside the traditionally constructed building takes you to the White Sands historic district, a museum narrating the tales of past Pueblo-Spanish reigns in the area.
This aesthetic entrance to the national park also holds an information desk, a snack store, and a gift shop to put your hands on gypsum souvenirs. Take your stop and prepare at the center before taking your trails in the glistening sand dunes.
Dunes Life Nature Trail
If you’re curious about what encomposes the sand mountains, then the track to Dunes Life should top your list of must-not-miss. This 1.6 km long, moderate trail is on the edge of a dunefield and is an ecotone where desert scrub meets gypsum sand dunes and gives birth to a diverse ecosystem.
Learn about plant and animal life in the desert-dune plains with trailside signs; if luck’s along, you may also encounter some shy inhibitors of the area, witnessing coyotes, mascots, kit foxes, rodents, and reptiles.
Alkali Flat Trail
Located in the heart of the sands, this 8 km long loop heads northwest across the dunes to the far edge of Alkali salt flats, a dry lakebed of remnants of Lake Otero. This not-so-flat trail is a strenuous hike filled with steep dunes and can be accessed only by foot.
The Alkali Flat trail completely lacks vegetation in the surroundings, making the blue and white landscape your only companion on the soft sand beds. It is advised to return back to the trailhead before sunset as the trail markers are your path indicators that may not be visible during the night.
Right down the street from White Sands National Monument is the famous camping spot of Holloman Lake. With breathtaking views and recreational facilities, the lakeside is your space to relax after a tiring day of hiking the white sands.
Since the lake is fed by wastewater from nearby US Air Force bases, it is prohibited to swim in the waters. However, the shoreline welcomes boondocking on the campground.
Located in the southwest corner of the park, Lake Lucero is a dry playa of 1-3 feet long selenite crystals formed as a result of evaporation of gypsum-laden water. With the changing season, the force of nature breaks down these crystals into sand like particles. These particles are carried away by the wind and result in the formation of 3-60 feet high sand mountains in the region.
The area of Lake Lucero is surrounded by White Sands Missile range under USAF, hence it is not open to the public throughout the season. Guided tours to the sight are made during specific times under supervision of the National Park Service.
The finest on our list is the 8 mile long scenic drive in the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. The Dunes Drive is your key to explore the dunes, learn about culture and history of the region, and take advantage of the picturesque backgrounds without taking hours-long trails.
The initial miles of the Dunes Drive road are well paved whereas the last couple of miles are formed of hard-packed gypsum. On your way, you may find several outdoor exhibits, picnic spots, and informational signboards to compliment your adventure.
White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park
In an effort to preserve the history and artifacts of the US Army, the Range Museum was founded in 1994 in the White Sands region. The WSMR collects, preserves, and displays the Army’s role in operating the missile range for the Department of Defense and contributes to the advancement of nuclear tech in the country.
Pay a visit to the host museum and missile park to experience the history of the Cold War and Operation Desert Storm.
New Mexico Museum of Space History and IMAX Theater
Ever heard about the heaven for space tech freaks? Another preservation of the region’s achievements is the Space History museum and IMAX theater that fascinates us with the US's role in development of space programs, celebrating achievements of aeromedics, and commemorating NASA’s moon missions.
Visit the biggest launched rockets of New Mexico and participate in ongoing debates and discussions of the astronomical theories in the IMAX theatre. Learn astronomy like you always wanted to!
Alameda Park Zoo
Home to nearly 200 animals and 90 species, Alameda Park Zoo is spread across 12 acres located at the end of Alameda Park. Historically constructed as an effort to entertain the passengers while they wait on the train station, currently it operates as a ground for environmental field studies, conservation, and research.
While connecting nature with humans, the zoo parks also contain education centers, picnic areas, and playgrounds to keep everyone entertained.
Different from the usual, the dunefield of New Mexico welcomes people of every age to immerse in nature and find peace in the glistening white crystal surroundings. Pack your bags and grab your sleds - hop on the journey of unexplored!