WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK

HISTORY

The 62nd official national park in the U.S, located in the Chihuahuan Desert in Southern New Mexico, is White Sands National Park. It’s filled with soft and white sand dunes comprised of gypsum making it the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The entire area used to be underwater 250 million years ago! The dunes were created from selenite crystals that formed during the Ice Age and over time, the selenite crystals eventually wore down into gypsum sand. The effects of wind and rain leaves the pure gypsum sand to blow around and create these incredible dunes.The dune fields cover about 275 square miles with 115 square miles located within White Sands National Park, and the rest is military land that is often used for missile testing (crazy right!)

WHERE IS WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK?

White Sands is a bit out of the way & kinda in the middle of nowhere. Located near the border of Mexico and Texas, the closest airport is located in El Paso, Texas (1.5 hours away) FYI The first first 5 miles of the road is paved and the last 3 miles are made of compact gypsum sand (might want to think about what kind of car you take) 

WHERE TO STAY

Alamogordo The closest town to White Sands National Park. I would recommend staying at a simple Holiday Inn or Motel 6 located in this small town. You will spend the majority of your time out and about exploring White Sands so all you really need is a clean bed and bathroom! However, if motels aren’t your thing (trust me, I get it) then there are a couple airbnb options!

Las Cruces A larger city with more options . Downside is the 1 hour drive to White Sands . This is where we chose to stay since the first leg of our trip was a direct drive from LA — Las Cruces (12 hour driving) If our driving day wasn’t that long, I would’ve much rather prefer staying in Alamogordo!

Airbnb Options
Las Cruces Charming Casita with Hot Tub & Patio
Wish we stayed here over motel 6… 100% booking this the next time we visit White Sands!
One Bedroom Apartment
AlamogordoTwo Story Guesthouse
Cozy Home

WHEN TO GO

Temperatures vary greatly throughout the seasons so make sure you research the weather patterns ahead of time. Spring is the best season to go with the most stable weather patterns or even September October in the Fall. Summer // Winter- You will deal with extreme weather that’s unbearable. The average weather during the summer is 95F and can spike to 110. Winter nights can get so cold to 20 F. In September, there is an annual White Sands Balloon Festival! How cool!

P.S Did you know w there are free national park days? Click here to find out what day is free to visit!

WHAT TO DO THERE

  • Camp

Campsite 5 is the gem with untouched sand dunes. Like the ones you see in movies without any footprints. Keep in mind you do have to hike 1 mile each way to get to the camp site. I would not recommend camping during the winter or summer time (due to the extreme temperatures) 

  • Chill & Picnic

Soooo much space to explore and spend the day just enjoying this incredible space. Bring a blanket, food and have yourself a dreamy little picnic!

  • Hike

The park has 5 established trails ranging from easy to strenuous:

  1. Interdune Boardwalk – easy stroll, 0.4 miles round trip, accessible to wheelchairs and strollers
  2. Playa Trail – easy trail, 0.5 miles round trip, at the end you have the opportunity to see what this area looked like 10,000 years ago and learn about the giants that once roamed this area!
  3. Dune Life Nature Trail – moderate hike, 1 mile loop, kit foxes, badgers, birds, rodents, and reptiles all live in this area and you can often either see them or their tracks
  4. Backcountry Camping Trail – moderate hike, 2 mile round-trip, hike through the heart of the dunes
  5. Alkali Flat Trail – strenuous hike, 5 mile round-trip, you’ll be hiking up and down dunes along the edge of the final remnant of Lake Otero

  • Photogenic Opportunities

I mean nowadays, we are all about instagrammable shots & hands down, you can’t go wrong with a photo here. The bright white sand pairs perfectly with any color outfits. Hopefully you witness an epic sunset on top of that. 

  • Sand Sledding

Embrace that inner child in you and get a work out in! Bring or buy a sled/ smooth saucer- they sell it at the park for a higher price, but if you plan ahead you can purchase one at a Walmart for an affordable deal 

  • Sunset Strolls 

The national park offers a 45 min- 60 min ranger guided sunset tour for FREE! You learn first hand about the geology, animals and plants. The hike is a leisurely 1 mile long. Bonus: pets are allowed to join! Meet near the sunset stroll sign parking area, a 5-mile (8.05 km) drive from the fee station. Click here for more information

THINGS TO BRING WITH YOU

  • Sunscreen: There is absolutely zero shade here, it might feel like you’re under the sun burning
  • Water: you never want to be dehydrated out in the middle of a desert so load up on a ton of water in the trunk for emergencies
  • Snacks: there aren’t any restaurants anywhere in the national park so bring your own so you don’t get hangry!

TIPS

  • $20 Entrance Fee // $40 annual pass // US Military members remains free
  • You can easily get lost in the sands… I know it sounds a bit ridiculous but pay attention to markers and where you’ve parked your car. Once you explore deep enough, the entire area blends in
  • Check for closure before you go. The national park closes for military uses aka missile testing.
  • Do NOT hike in the heat. Don’t even try it…. There is zero shade there and extremely unsafe to hike in the heat.
  • Cell service is a bit unstable there so if you are expecting an important call or need service, you might not be able to do that here
  • As a safety precaution, drop a pin on Google maps to wherever you need to get back to, whether that’s a tent, parking lot or start of the trail. 

BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT GUIDE

As we headed back West on our cross country road trip, we stayed in Santa Fe for 2 nights and researched on what we could do around there, and damn, we were so pleasantly surprised with this destination.  

Today’s blog post is about a very sacred & special place… drumroll please…. Bandelier National Monument! Bandelier National Monument encompasses more than 30,000 acres of historial desert mesas and canyons and easily became one of my favorite USA national parks. It is only 1 hour West of Santa Fe- super feasible to do a day trip out here. The monument preserves Ancestral Puebloans structures that dates back to 1150- 1600 AD- almost 15,000 years ago! You will have the opportunity to discover cave dwellings, petroglyphs, and rock paintings. Today, the people of Chochiti Pueblo are considered to be the most direct descendents of the natives’ ancestral puebloans. 

As you drive into the park, you will come across some viewpoints where you can park and hop out to take some photos, which I don’t think its worth stopping. Keep in mind of your time here. Ultimately, you want to get down to the main Visitor Center area to start the adventurous hike so make sure you make your way down there to see the cave dwelling and archeological sites.

Parking is extremely limited once you get down to the Visitor Center area (where the start of the hike up to the cave dwellings are) In the summertime, you’ll have to park at the top and take a shuttle down, but in the winter time, you can pull in directly to the main lot. Once you get down to the main parking lot,  you will see a visitor center where you can learn about the early inhabitants that dates back thousands of years. From there, you can start your hiking adventure!

Main Ruins loop trail is 1.2 miles. You start the trail right by the visitor center and make your way through archeological sites and cave dwellings. It’s easily worth seeing even if you’re limited on time here- it requires very minimal hiking/short walk. I’d say average 30 min round trip. As you continue on the trail, you will see a sign that says “Long House,” which is another collection of Pueblo Ruins. They use to be 4 story houses built along side the cliffs. You can add on an extra mile & the trail will lead you on to see the Alcove House previously known as the Ceremonial Cave. The Alcove House is the tallest one, which served 25 people at one point and is 140 ft above ground…. so be prepared to do a lot of climbing (4 sections of long ladders )! P.S look into weather conditions before coming here. The ladders are closed off if there is abundant snowfall. If you have a fear of heights, you might want to skip out on the Alcove House.

Cave Dwellings

There are 3 short ladders to climb right at the beginning of this trail. Definitely give those a try and if you are up for an epic adventure, challenge yourself to the 140ft ladder by the Alcove House. You can tell the ancestral puebloans were much shorter based on how small these caves were. You are able to freely climb up, explore the space, observe the interior of the caves. The ancestral puebloans used these spaces to escape from the extreme weather changes. PLEASE only enter the caves that have ladders. Be respectful of the historical preservation here!  

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  • Entrance Fee: $25 (you can use your national park pass for this too!)
  • Parking is LIMITED. It’s such a small lot and fills up quickly. My advice: head there early in the AM!
  • Check the weather conditions before you go. Ancient Pueblo sites have closures that are dependent on weather conditions so check before you go!
  • Pack your own food and drinks to have a lovely picnic there. There is a cafe on site, but the menu is small.