Of all the places in New Mexico, this has to be the most interesting and most fragile. It’s a massive area of gypsum sand, in the middle of a windy basin between two mountain ranges, the Sacramento Mountains 30 miles to the east, and the San Andres Mountains 20 miles to the west. Because it’s sand and there’s wind, it moves, very slowly, changing all the time.
There is an eight-mile road that takes you to the heart of these pure white dunes, and that short drive definitely takes you on a fantastic ride. Here’s the road about 2 miles in…
The whole of the white sands is 275 square miles, the largest gypsum dune field on planet Earth; the park protects more than half of that space. And let’s give props President Herbert Hoover, who created the White Sands National Monument on January 18, 1933, one of his last official acts in office. It’s hard to get the scale of this place from ground-level photos so I hiked up the side of a mountain behind my campsite and took this shot.
I’ve played with the coloration to emphasize White Sands. See that thin white line just below the mountain range way over there (about 35 miles away from my vantage point on the mountain)? That’s the sand dunes. That whole long white line. It’s a HUGE place!
There are actually three ecological zones in the dune fields, and you can see two of them in this photo: the Chihuahuan desert in the foreground and the interdune zone that is where desert is transitioning to the white dunes.
Here’s a close-up of the interdune zone. It’s not yellow dirt but it still has a lot of scrub that the desert zones features.
About four miles in, the paved road ended and I was driving on gypsum!
My tires looked awesome, too. Kind of like driving on thin snow.
It’s definitely not full-on tourist season here yet. The empty picnic tables and windbreaks made for a cool shot.
At the far end of the picnic area, I wandered out onto the dunes a bit (don’t worry, it’s legal to walk on them!) and I was the only person I could see or hear, so I had the dunes all to myself. Until the F/A-18s from Holloman AFB starting flying over. But they were cool to see, too.
It was a perfect day for visiting White Sands – blue skies, puffy white clouds, and those amazing dunes. If you get the chance, visit!
You can shake the sand from your shoes, but not from your soul.