Most of the dune field was sequestered by the United States Military, who shoots missiles at them on the infamous White Sands Missile Range, where the first atomic bomb was tested. But a section of the heart of the dune field has been preserved as a National Monument and you can go there to play in the dunes.
Playing amongst big piles of sand may not sound like your cup of tea, but let me tell you:
-White Sands is unlike any place you will ever experience.-
To be surrounded by blazing white sand for miles and miles, in a basin ringed by rugged black-walled mountains, with an intense blue sky hanging above...the starkness is breathtaking. Sunsets here are unparalleled.
Plus, there are so many recreational opportunities available! A few trails provide experiences of all levels, from an easy stroll along a boardwalk, to a trek into the heart of the desert where you'll literally see nothing around you but a sea of white dunes. Without the small orange trail markers you would instantly become hopelessly disoriented and lost.
Back at the dune field, you can partake in a sport I invented, uncreatively called "Dune Jumping." The dunes are sloped gently on one side, then drop off almost vertically on the other. You get a running start up the gentle slope, then when you reach the top you jump as far as you can...and then PLUMMET 15-20 feet to the soft sand below you. It's exhilerating and just about the safest way you can fall that far without hurting yourself.
Make SURE to wear high-proof sunscreen, as the dunes reflect EVERY bit of sunlight that falls on them. Since they absorb no heat, the dune field is surprisingly cool year-round, which can be deceptive. You will ROAST alive within 30 minutes if you aren't sunscreened.
To reach the park, head west out of Cloudcroft on Hwy 82. You will descend rapidly out of the mountains and through a spectacular canyon to Alamogordo. Turn left on Hwy 70 and go through town, following the signs for White Sands. About 20 miles south of town you'll see the entrance to the park on your right. They charge $5 per vehicle to enter the park.
Occasionally the park is closed for missile testing, but never for more than a few hours.
Please also read Dog Canyon for info on cleaning the sand off, and eat at Margo's on your way home!
by Ben the Grate
April 10, 2002
From journal The Perfect Alpine Escape