On a cold but clear early March morning near Alamogordo, NM, I ventured into the quiet, near-pure white landscape of the unusual gypsum sand dunes showcased at the 275-square-mile White Sands National Monument.
There are large portions of the monument area where sand grass and other vegetation is growing well in the white sands. But the pure-white gems of this unusual Earthly wonder can be experienced by driving the eight-mile Dunes Drive and Dunes Loop.
A spectacular photo opportunity, albeit one that seems, at first, to be of a singular subject, the dunes are as varied as nature can make them. Many who visit enjoy sliding down the steep-sloped dunes, or exploring the various long hiking paths into the dunes fields, complete with some serious warning signs about getting lost and to take multiple precautions in carrying water, food, clothing, monitoring trail markings, etc. I’d speculate they’ve had their fair share of hikers get lost in this snow-blind-like world of seemingly endless white sand dunes.
At one point I parked Tamasté and ventured into the dunes a ways until I could no longer see the van, or any signs of humanity. As I stood there taking in this unearthly landscape, I felt desolate and cold. Cold not just because it was 38 that morning, but from the beautiful white dunes around me that felt sterile, there but not alive. When there’s nothing in view but brilliant blue skies, puffy white clouds, and the endless undulations of vegetation-less white sand, it felt as though no living thing existed there. In my years of hiking into wilderness, I’ve never had this same feeling of being lost, in a good way, or better put, somewhere and nowhere at the same time.
One potential issue for those traveling from Alamogordo to the monument, is foretold by this interesting warning sign outside the city on highway 70, which runs by the monument and that other white sands area, those 3,200 square miles of reserved land for military use and missile tests. In my many days around Alamogordo, I never saw the flashing light, but can imagine frustrations for those travelers forced to highway-sit and wait for the all clear. In this part of New Mexico, there aren’t exactly alternate routes aplenty, and highway 70 is the primary connection between Alamogorodo and Las Cruces.
For those who haven’t been, may these photos entice you to visit if you’re close. And for those who have been, let these images trigger your memories visiting one of nature’s more unique formations.