White Sands National Park

The world of “white”. Putting myself in an unreal space where only “white” spreads, the word “escapism” comes to mind.

A national park in southern New Mexico with vast sand dunes. It is hard to get this place since it is far from the big city, but this is the place to experience a special space. In 2019, it was upgraded from National Monument to National Park.

To put it simply, the sand dunes of this national park are pure white. The park has white sand dunes. The identity of this sand dune is gypsum. I recognize that it is made of stone because I feel a little hard when touch it. This plaster is pure white. The usual dune colors of yellow, ocher and gray does not mix in. When putting myself in this sand dune space, I felt the illusion that I am in a snowy landscape.

The park has a visitor center on the side of State Route 70, and a park road of about 10 kilometers extends northwest from visitor center. Visitors run along this road to go around the park. Pay the entrance fee at the gate on the road and enter the park (in the past, there was no gate, and the entrance fee was paid at the visitor center).

After a while, the dunes come into view, but it is not surprising because they are covered with vegetation. After that, dunes close in on both sides of the road, and when the pavement ends, the road turns white. Then, with a short drive on the unpaved road, entering a loop road. This is the end of the road. From here, another world covered with white sand dunes.

There are several trails within the park. To experience the white space, heading to the “Backcountry Camping Trail” and/or “Alkali Flat Trail” towards the end of the road. I walked up and back the “Alkali Flat Trail” for 20 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed myself. There are rod-shaped plates on the trail, so it would be nice to spend some time off the route and find a spot within the range where you can see these plates.

Also, do not forget to apply sunscreen when visiting White Sands. Sunburn is unavoidable since the pure white of the sand dunes reflects sunlight. When I try to take pictures of the dunes, it is so bright that I cannot even press the camera shutter.

I would like to mention two other things that I personally thought about the timing of the visit.

One is to avoid weekends or public holidays when there are a lot of visitors. In 2023, I visited on Sunday and Monday, and there were many people on Sunday. The benches on the side of the loop road were filled with people, and the figures of cars and people roaming the dunes were conspicuous. When I visited on Monday, I was able to immerse myself in an extraordinary space covered in pure white in silence without being bothered by the presence of cars or people.

The other is about the visitor’s footprints left in the sand dunes. When I visited on Sunday evening, I had a hard time taking pictures because of the footprints on the sand dunes. The next day, I returned to the site expecting that the footprints had disappeared, but they had not. I think this does not mean that the footprints will disappear after a day, but they will not disappear unless the weather changes and a strong wind blows. That means it is the best to visit after a day with strong winds.

Well, my first visit to White Sands was in 1996, nearly 30 years ago. When I revisited in 2023, I felt that the number of plants living in the dunes had increased. Especially before the road became a dirt road, the plants were growing at a level where the pure white of the sand dunes was not noticeable. When I threw this impression on the ranger at the visitor center, he said, “Maybe it has something to do with the heavy rain in 2006 that caused water to accumulate” .

White Sands locates in the south of New Mexico and therefore it is difficult to reach. Personally, I have a chance to visit northern New Mexico, but when I have a plan going to White Sands and looking at the map, I recognize it spends whole day only driving and I hesitate to go. Although it is in such a remote place, this is the place that leaves a strong impression.

​Visited in 1996 and 2023.

​Basic Information

■ Name of Place:White Sands National Monument
■ Address : New Mexico, USA
​■ Homepage : https://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm

■ How to Get here? / Input

  1. El Paso is a good place to fly into. Close to White Sands National Park is Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and it is a good idea to visit both at the same time. Other options are Tucson to the west or Albuquerque to the north. There are many attractions near these two cities, but the distance between them makes that this is only an option if you have time to spend.
  2. Sunscreen is a must as it is easy to get sunburned inside White Sands. Also, plenty of water is a must when walking trails in spring and summer when temperatures are high.
  3. Distance / Time
    • 80 miles (130 km) from El Paso, approximately 1.5 hours.
    • 320 miles (520 km) from Tucson, approximately 5 hours.
    • 250 miles (400 km) from Albuquerque, approximately 4 hours.