A Visit to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

This summer I was finally able to see where my mother and stepfather moved to: New Mexico. I really enjoyed New Mexico, for all the reasons I remembered the when I drove through it years ago: the space, the isolation, the natural beauty. The Indian pueblo in Taos had its own species of beauty, and I loved some of the panoramas and of course, the chiles. I wanted to see White Sands National Monument for another kind of beauty.

The White Sands National Monument is adjacent to another very important and historical area: White Sands Missile Range, home of Trinity site and the testing of the first atom bomb, open to the public one Saturday every April and October. For some interesting reading, try the Rumors, Misinformation and Lies about the Trinity Site.

White Sands Missile Range statue at San Augustin Pass

The White Sands National Monument is home to more than 275 square miles of white gypsum sand. The white sand looks suspiciously like snow and driving on it feels a little like it, too.

Driving through White Sands National Monument - Is it snowing?

275 square miles of desert means that while you can see the mountains in the distance, you can easily get lost, disoriented and dehydrated if you wander too far out in the dunes. There are a few hiking paths that require guests to sign in and sign out so that their presence is accounted for when the park closes.

Note: We visited the park in July which is undoubtedly one of the hottest times of the year. Consult the website for recommended visiting times. We arrived around 9:30am and it was already scorching hot.

Looking across the White Sands National Monument

We saw tons of snake paths winding across the sand, and every once in a while, we met some real inhabitants of the dunes. Ladybugs and ants on the Soaptree Yucca.

Soaptree Yucca fruit and ladybug and ants at White Sands National Monument

A Bleached Earless lizard that was hanging out in the shade. When under the sun, they become washed-out and the color of sand!

Bleached Earless Lizard in the Shade

The most interesting thing about sand dune ecosystems is that they are constantly moving. The dunes can move as much as 30 feet (west to east) per year! Only a few species of plants manage to grow quickly enough to stay ahead of the dune crawl and prosper.

One of these plants is the Soaptree Yucca. This plant is currently located on the cusp of the dune and will be fighting dune creep while it tries to stay above sand level.

Soaptree Yucca plant at White Sands National Monument

Other plants have withstood the constant moving of sand grains on the dunes and have ended up with this hard, cylindrical “plant stand” of roots and gypsum anchoring it in place.

Gypsum plant stand at White Sands National Monument

My mother has attended several events at the White Sands National Park, ranging from Moonlight Bicycle rides, Full Moon Nights and Stargazing Nights where astronomers come and let others view the stars through their telescopes.

Many families were there using saucers and sleds to go down the sand dunes. In July, this looked crazy to me, but I’m sure in the fall and winter it could be a great substitute for going to the snow!

We stopped after our hikes to have a little snack and some water. This picnic area was completely deserted and wonderfully peaceful. The shaded backs of the tables made sure we weren’t scorching though the sun was trying hard.

Picknic tables for lunch stops at White Sands National Monument

Have you been to the White Sands National Monument? Would you go sledding in the sand? What about a day-long hike?

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

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  1. says

    That’s just gorgeous! and it *does* look like snow!

    Gee. I’ve driven through New Mexico more times than I can count, but only as I drove from California to the other side of the US.

    Next time, I should stop and look around :)

  2. says

    I went there as a child once, and I absolutely adored it. You could go sledding without the snow! It got a little windy, which wasn’t fun, one day, but overall it was great. You captured it perfectly in your photos…

  3. Kaitecat says

    I use to live there – well on Holloman AFB right next to White Sands. We would ride our horses to the dunes. You should try the sledding. It’s a lot of fun, and it doesn’t hurt or anything. The best part, you don’t have the awful coldness of snow, but rather the coolness of the sand to counter act the sun. In the winter when it snows (yes, it does snow in New Mexico) it looks like white on ivory. Very beautiful. Just be sure to check the schedules of the missile launches in the area, so you don’t get stuck in traffic for hours.

  4. says

    WOW. Sara. You’ve really outdone yourself with these photos. Simply gorgeous. You really captured the blinding heat of that area. Somehow I can almost imagine it being really cold there now.

  5. Sara's Mom says

    Actually, it is still really hot here in New Mexico with temps in the 90s mid-day, normal for September. It does cool down at night now, which is nice. White Sands has the largest pure gypsum dunes in the world and is a very unique place to see. Beautiful description of the park, Sara. Glad you had a chance to experience it with me!

  6. says

    Sara that third photo from the bottom is mind blowing. I love the contrast of the blue sky with the white sand.

    You know how I feel about hot weather so I don’t think I would last a day in White Sands. :)

  7. says

    What beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing those with us. I discovered you via Bleeding Espresso and My Bella Vita and My Melange — and your Tour Del Gelato concept is giving me an excuse to go gelato-eating very soon :) I wil post when I get around to reviewing a gelato place on my blog :)

  8. says

    I drove through the area and remember the fine white sands as a child, years ago. I would love to return to tour the area, especially the missle site.

  9. Bob Bentley says


    you should post all your comments that are submitted not just the one’s you like. While your photos are not bad, you certainly aren’t that perfect….. nor is your framing or depth of field on some of the pics. Keep up the work but keep it an honest blog too. It’s pretty transparent as it stands now.

    Best of luck.

  10. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @Bob – I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re referring to, and your unwarranted hostility is surprising.

    I have a warning on my comment form for URLs in the comment as they often go into my spam queue and I get hundreds of spam so I don’t sift the queue.

    Since it’s my personal blog, I retain the right to approve comments as per my comment policy. Of course I prefer comments that are adding to the conversation instead of random criticisms, but I have rarely deleted a comment. I’m not a professional photographer so I expect not all my work will be perfect, but I’m happy to share it anyway.

    Good luck to you as well.

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