A December 2001 trip
to White Sands by isewell
Quote: White Sands is a wonderful playground, like something out of a dream. The dunes are high, and the sand is incredibly soft.
When walking around the dunes, make sure not to set too ambitious a goal: the sand is very soft and can tire you out quickly. Other possibilities for getting around include biking (!) and even sledding!
On a more pleasant note we were surprised to see an Oryx. This is a large animal (sort of like a bison) that wanders the desert. We'd never seen anything like it, and we dove into our guidebook for an explanation. Turns out that a small population of these things was imported from Africa in the 60's for hunting. Of course, the plan wasn't that well thought out - it has no natural predators, so the population has spread, even into neighbouring states.
One of the first things we noticed was the constant buzz of F117's flying over head. This was rather unfortunate, as it made it harder to escape into the natural surroundings.
We took a few short nature walks before we got into the thick of it. There are many scrub areas on the edge of the dunes, which explain the vegetation you are (perhaps) looking at.
Driving on, the paved road comes to an end, and the road becomes flattened sand. It turns out there is no point in them trying to pave a road there, as the dunes shift each year, so they'd just be covered. The road was well graded, however. There is an 8 mile loop road that meanders through the main dunes. There are many huge open areas (perhaps parking lots at peak tourist season?), a lot of picnic tables (with shade) set up, and even kiosks renting sleds to kids. The sand looks like snow, and is very smooth and clean. I had a blast running up and down the hills, and the children we saw there looked like they were in paradise.
We went a short hike just to get away from the road and onto our own patch of sand (this was pretty easy). Walking on the sand can be tiring, so don't plan on covering a lot of miles quickly. We did another nature trail walk "Big Dune Trail" inside the gypsum dunes, and to be honest, the most fun was trying to find the next route marker, when they had been buried under the sand.
It will take you about 45 minutes to drive around the loop road, without stopping.
Santa ROsa, California