"White Sands National Monument" Top 5 Page for this destination Alamogordo Off The Beaten Path Tip by toonsarah
Alamogordo Off The Beaten Path: 7 reviews and 9 photos
It was the White Sands in part at least that brought us to New Mexico, and they did not disappoint. After seeing the wonderful photos taken here by Richie (richiecdisc) I was really keen to see these scenes for myself, and that was one of the triggers for planning a holiday in this incredible state. The White Sands National Monument really merits a page of its own, so this tip just offers an overview of our visit.
White Sands National Monument is U.S. Highway 70, about 15 miles south-west of Alamogordo. As we were staying in Alamogordo rather than in the park itself (where the only accommodation option is back-country camping), we made an early start that day, and were at the gates soon after the 7.00 am opening time. The dunes are at their best, photographically at least, when the sun is low in the sky, and you also have the benefit of seeing them relatively uncrowded. But of course other people know this too, so don’t expect to have them to yourself!
We paid the $3 per person fee (good for a week) and drove to our planned first stop, the Interdune Boardwalk. This offers a short easy walk with interpretive boards describing the plant life on the dunes etc. It was just right for a pre-breakfast stroll and got us in among the dunes while the light was still good, although if I were to visit again I think I would head straight for the far end of the loop drive even if it meant driving a little further before stopping, as there were quite a few people on this boardwalk even at that early hour and it would have been good to have a more peaceful introduction to this eerie landscape.
After a quick breakfast back at the car it was time to explore further. There are no restrictions on where you can walk here, as long as you pull off the road when you stop, so we did just that a short distance along the road and climbed a small dune to get some more extensive views. Our third stop was in one of the picnic areas, both to use the rest-rooms and to photograph these bizarre shelters which look other-worldly (but provide much-needed shade when the sun is at its height).
Our next stop was at the far end of the loop drive. By now it was mid-morning and there were more people around. It was interesting to see the different ways in which they were enjoying the dunes – some families seemed to be treating them more as a beach than anything else, with deck-chairs set up and children playing in the sand! We were here though to do part of the Alkali Flat Trail. Even ten minutes’ walk along here is enough to get you into a different world – the crowds are left behind and you can easily find a corner to yourself. There are far fewer plants here, and the landscape is even more strange and striking, so despite the fact that sun had climbed a little higher the photo opportunities were still excellent.
By the way, despite the name, this is not sand! The white crystals are in fact gypsum, and in this part of New Mexico the dunes cover 275 square miles of desert creating the world's largest gypsum dunefield. Not all of this though is part of the National Monument, as much of it is off-limits on the White Sands Missile Range – these wide open spaces are ideal for such activities it seems. But thankfully the National Monument does preserve a large portion of the dunefield and make it accessible for us all to enjoy.
This is my last tip; if you wish you can return to my Intro page.
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