White Sands National Monument

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The gleaming gypsum, endless skies and surrounding mountains make White Sands National Monument a spectacular location for fine photography. (National Parks Service photo)

White Sands More Than Just Dunes

A White Sands day trip is a perfect jaunt down the mountain. You will take a drive southwest on Highway 70 out of Ruidoso and descend the foothills surrounding Sierra Blanca peak, you’ll eventually find yourself in the Tularosa Basin. Surrounded on all sides by mountains – Sacramentos to the east, San Andres and Organ to the west and gentle slopes north and south – the basin home to Lake Lucero, from which the famed dunes of White Sands National Monument spring.

Encompassing 275 square miles – the dunes made of pure gypsum gleam white in the desert sun and glow during full moons at night. The national monument only encompasses a small portion of the dune sea, but there’s plenty to see and do in that area.

Starting at the visitor center just off of Highway 70 south of Alamogordo, there are a number of options and activities at this historic site, starting with interpretive exhibits, a native plant garden and the award-winning orientation film A Land In Motion. The name of the film isn’t by accident. While the sand dunes may seem stationary, they can move by as much as 30 feet per year. Along the southern end, the dunes are threatening to bury Highway 70, while the slow march east could bring the dune sea to the outskirts of Alamogordo – in a few thousand years.

From there, it’s up to you whether you want to stay in the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle for the eight-mile

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Photo by Todd Fuqua

Dunes Drive, or hike the mountains of gypsum sand on foot. Remember, if you opt for the latter, take plenty of water and sunscreen and be mindful of how far out you go. Temperatures at the park regularly exceed 100 degrees in the summer. Once on the dunes, the art of sledding down the side is a popular pastime. Or you can simply whip out the camera and start taking pictures of the beautiful scenery around you.

And of course, there are several events scheduled at White Sands throughout the summer, not the least of which are the full moon hikes and full moon nights each month. July 20, Rudy Wood and the Tularosa Basin Musicians Union perform starting at 8:30 p.m. A full schedule of all remaining events for the summer can be found at https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/calendar.htm.

Also, be sure to visit the White Sands National Monument website at https://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm for information on all events and available activities at the park.

—Todd Fuqua