White Sands National Monument is unlike any other place I have ever been. Driving through the New Mexico landscape the dots of brown and low vegetation suddenly are interrupted by a great white almost glowing desert of gypsum sands which almost give the appearance of snow covered dunes as you drive closer and closer.
The natural beauty of the monument is a unique and rare occurrence, as typically gypsum is not deposited in sand form. It usually is carried out to sea, but as it is landlocked in this area with no way to drift, instead it is broken down by wind and water erosion into tiny particles, which resemble sand.
The sands are unlike those surrounding their location and do not convert heat thus are comfortable to walk on without shoes. They are soft yet can build into large alkali dunes, which makes for not only amazing views but also for a unique experience in that you can sled on them similar to that of snow.
Of course, we had to try it!
The process is pretty simple:
1 – go to the gift shop to purchase your sledding disk and sled wax
2 – drive into the national monument and find your ideal sledding location
3 – park and climb a dune
4 – wax your sled
5 – sit on the sled, lean back and put your feet up and GO!
The gift shop has both new and used disk sleds available, however the used typically go quickly as they are priced at lower price point. My suggestion is get there early if you are wanting to pick up one of these sleds. Otherwise, sleds are about $16 for a new disk and wax is sold for $1.50 You do need wax to help make your sledding experience a bit more efficient, otherwise the disks don’t slide down the sands as well. Upon use of your disk sled you can resell them to the gift shop at a portion of the original cost.
Driving in, if you have your America the Beautiful Pass, your entrance for your car is covered, otherwise it is $5 per person. We of course had our pass with us so it was an easy drive up and show of the pass. It was there that the attendant made a suggestion to us to venture all the way to the end of the pass for the higher more exciting dunes. Challenge Accepted!
About a quarter way down the road, the pavement ends and you are then driving directly on the white sands. The road becomes a little more rough so I would suggest slowing down during this transition.
There are numerous pull offs for parking along the way as well as a picnic area and trails. However, as we learned in the reading provided to us at the entrance, sometimes sand storms can start without warning so being aware of your surroundings is important. During these storms, visibility is limited, for this reason it is strongly suggested to bring a bandana for covering your mouth and sunglasses to prevent sands from getting in your eyes.
We finally made it to our destination on some of the steepest dunes so it was time to enjoy. We trekked up the dunes with the winds starting to grab at us, but nothing could stop us. We tested a few sled paths on both the front and back side of the dunes and realized the more upright the dune side the more the sled responded.
We waxed the disk about every second attempt and had the time of our lives. We learned quickly that the sled ride down was worth more than cost of admission as it was laughter filled and a rush of adrenaline.
Sand was everywhere, in our clothes, in out mouths and in our hair, and yet it was worth every minute as it was something so unique and so fun-filled. Not to mention a great workout as you climbed the dunes. The sand truly was almost like snow as it blew around everywhere but we did notice that being off the dune peak it felt more like a sand storm than a snowstorm as it was intense at times.
After we sledded I know we both said we would gladly go back again and again!
Distance From Major Cities:
El Paso, TX: 95 Miles
Las Cruces, NM: 52 Miles
Albuquerque, NM: 224 Miles
Remember sunscreen, you are in the desert and if you plan on being there for a while the ground might not be warm, but it is reflecting sun heavily so you are very susceptible to sunburn.
Sunglasses and bandanas are things to make sure you at least pack in the car since sandstorms can occur at anytime.
Watch your surroundings! Like with any outdoor adventure paying attention to what is around you is important. Though we were told that in the more widely used areas right by the roads animals are less abundant because of avoidance of tourists, it is a natural habitat so be aware of what could be lurking at all times.
If you do chose to hike, keep up with where you have come from and where you are going, sand quickly will hide footprints in this area so retracing your footprints will be difficult and paths are not clearly designated. If you get off the path you could easily get turned around.