We just returned from a two-week trip to six National Parks. Our first two stops were to the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. Next up, was White Sands National Park just three hours away near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Dunes of white sand stretch out as far as the eye can see. The sand is formed by crushed gypsum, part of the ancient Permian Basin. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.
Where is White Sands National Park?
White Sands NP is located next to White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) and nearby Holloman Air Force Base and resides within the land owned by the military for the Missile Range. WSMR became a permanent resident during World War II and was the Trinity testing site for the Manhattan Project, later known to the world as the Atomic Bomb. Today, it continues to be used as an important scientific research and testing facility for both missile defense and space exploration.
The entrance is just off Highway 70. As you drive down Dunes Drive, you pass by the Ranger Station. The Pueblo Revival-style adobe building was built in the 1930s as a job-creation project during the Great Depression. There is a small gift shop, and you can purchase your day passes or park pass there. As of June 2021, they were only allowing two groups into the stop/temporary ranger station at a time, one group to shop and another to check out.
Can I buy or rent a sled at White Sands National Park?
There is another gift shop behind the visitor center that is not owned by the National Park Service. There, you can purchase other tchotchkes and buy a round sled to take down the dunes. In front of the register, they sell surfer’s wax to break up friction and produce a smoother ride, (read: to make you go FAST!). It’s worth the $1.50 investment. The sleds are $18 to purchase new or $15 to buy used. Easy money and yet another invention that I wish I would have thought of first! If you decide to return your sled at the end of your visit, they’ll give you a White Sands National Park magnet. Having unsuccessfully tried to purchase a sled during a pandemic, I decided to buy a used sled and keep it for a future Dallas snowfall (it's rare, but it happens and we can never find sleds when we need them!).
Most of us have probably sledded before, but just in case, I’ll give a tip. Create a trail and use it! Once you have a trail created, you can go pretty fast with your surfer’s wax generously applied to your sled. All you have to do is take the wax and rub it on like a crayon.
What is there to see in White Sands?
There are public restrooms on the side of the Visitor's Center. There’s only one road into the Park with a few stop-offs along the way. One of those stop-offs is a boardwalk that walks out to the dunes and provides information about the desert plants and life in the area. My dad says that it's a great overview, but I can't personally vouch as we were on a mission to sled. There are also restrooms that are permanent port-a-potties about halfway down the road.
Where is the best place to sled at White Sands National Park?
The ranger told me that the best sledding is at the end, so that’s where we drove. The sand is pleasantly warm – not hot – despite being in the middle of summer. You can easily park your car, walk straight up a dune, and slide down in a matter of minutes. You can also walk further along the dunes and find undisturbed sand. Despite being a small Park, there were seemingly few people there. You'll notice in the picture at the beginning of this article that I took a picture of Bill and the kids with no one else in the panorama.
Is White Sands good for visiting with kids?
This is one of those small parks that you can get easily into and out of whenever you are ready. Bill and I were previously here 20 or so years ago and we remembered coming in and going out pretty fast. Going with kids – or a large group of friends – would probably make you want to add time. Out of the six regional National Parks that we did on this trip, the kids decided that this one was unequivocally their favorite. I have to admit, I had more fun than I had anticipated because it was so much fun sledding with them. Of course, you also have to factor in that we are Texans and rarely see snow so sledding alone was quite a novelty.
This Park is worth a visit on its own or as previously mentioned, it can easily be combined with Carlsbad and Guadalupe and/or heading west to Saguaro National Park in Tucson. As a matter of fact, that's our next stop - check back next week for an article about it.
The entrance is off of Highway 70, 54 miles east of Las Cruces, NM
The park is open from 7a – 6p
Backcountry camping and the evening sunset stroll is currently on hold because of COVID precautions
Check NPS’s White Sands page for road closures because Hwy 70 and Dunes Drive are sometimes closed for up to three hours during missile testing
Bring sunscreen and hats for your protection. Also, make sure to bring plenty of water.
There are porta-potties by the Ranger Station and restrooms about halfway down Dunes Drive
Fees per the NPS website (as of June 2021)
White Sands National Park Entrance - Vehicle - $25.00. Per vehicle fee is charged to visitors for entry by a single, private non-commercial vehicle. Entrance fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from the date of purchase.
White Sands National Park Entrance - Person - $15.00. Per person fee is charged to visitors for entry by means other than a single, private non-commercial vehicle. This includes, but is not limited to, individuals who enter the park by walking and bicycling. Entrance fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from the date of purchase.
White Sands National Park Entrance - Motorcycle - $20.00
America the Beautiful - Annual Park Pass - $80.00. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees, and day-use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person) at over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country. Children age 15 or under are admitted free
The parks passport station is in the temporary gift shop / ranger station when you first enter the park (near the register)
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