I was in New Mexico at the end of April for a solo road trip retreat and day 2’s primary destination was White Sands National Monument.
White Sands (WS) is a full 8 1/2 hours from Denver, so I decided to drive down to El Paso, TX to see a friend and then hit WS on the way back up.
From El Paso, I drove through plenty of desert and low plains, so driving into WS I immediately recognized that something was different about this park. As you cruise through the scenic drive, expect some breckneck scenery changes. Desert. Some white sand mixed amongst the tan sand. ALL white sand. ALL white sand dunes. Done.
I highly recommend the scenic drive, lasting at least 45 minutes in duration, as you can jump out of your car to take amazing pictures or scoot down the dunes on a large, sled-like frisbee. The visitors center does not sell these so make sure to bring your own and have some fun!
There is also a backpacking loop of 2.2 miles in length. During mid-April, there was a plethora of permits (not sure about summer permit availability). In addition to entrance fees, a permit fee of $10 is required though it is not listed on the website. Your National Park pass gets you through the entrance fee “for free” (technically, it is covered by your pass!). I considered camping on the backpacking loop but after some thought, I realized I didn’t want to wake up to sand solidified in bodily crevasses nor the sand passive aggressively tearing up my tent, one granule at a time.
There are quite a few hiking trails in the park. The WS website recommends you “…do not start a hike if the temperature is at or above 85°F (30°C).” I couldn’t agree more! In my not-so-humble opinion, a hike would become monotonous pretty quickly here. I think your time is best well spent soaring down sand dunes, taking pictures, and pushing your friends into the sand.
The ranger-led sunset walk at 6:45pm nightly. The visitors center guide said that if the mountains in the west are hazy, you will not have a good sunset.
The wind and heat play a large role in the enjoy-ability of your trip. Make sure to check out the hours that White Sands closes as it varies by season and by date. If you time your visit well, you could get some amazing shots of the sun setting behind the dunes. Locals recommend 1-2 hours max to hit the highlights. As a solo traveler, about an hour was plenty for me. Since the wind was 40mph, I decided not to camp and head to Lincoln National Forest for the night.
If you do not want to spend the night in White Sands, you can pop over to Lincoln National Forest, select a dirt road, and camp there. You can camp on any dirt road in a National Forest for free. And not get sandy in your bodily crevasses. Also free.
Enjoy your trip!