White Sands National Monument
It was the White Sands in part at least that brought us to New Mexico, and they did not disappoint. After seeing the wonderful photos taken here by Richie (richiecdisc) I was really keen to see these scenes for myself, and that was one of the triggers for planning a holiday in this incredible state. The White Sands National Monument really merits a page of its own, so this tip just offers an overview of our visit.
White Sands National Monument is U.S. Highway 70, about 15 miles south-west of Alamogordo. As we were staying in Alamogordo rather than in the park itself (where the only accommodation option is back-country camping), we made an early start that day, and were at the gates soon after the 7.00 am opening time. The dunes are at their best, photographically at least, when the sun is low in the sky, and you also have the benefit of seeing them relatively uncrowded. But of course other people know this too, so don’t expect to have them to yourself!
We paid the $3 per person fee (good for a week) and drove to our planned first stop, the Interdune Boardwalk. This offers a short easy walk with interpretive boards describing the plant life on the dunes etc. It was just right for a pre-breakfast stroll and got us in among the dunes while the light was still good, although if I were to visit again I think I would head straight for the far end of the loop drive even if it meant driving a little further before stopping, as there were quite a few people on this boardwalk even at that early hour and it would have been good to have a more peaceful introduction to this eerie landscape.
After a quick breakfast back at the car it was time to explore further. There are no restrictions on where you can walk here, as long as you pull off the road when you stop, so we did just that a short distance along the road and climbed a small dune to get some more extensive views. Our third stop was in one of the picnic areas, both to use the rest-rooms and to photograph these bizarre shelters which look other-worldly (but provide much-needed shade when the sun is at its height).
Our next stop was at the far end of the loop drive. By now it was mid-morning and there were more people around. It was interesting to see the different ways in which they were enjoying the dunes – some families seemed to be treating them more as a beach than anything else, with deck-chairs set up and children playing in the sand! We were here though to do part of the Alkali Flat Trail. Even ten minutes’ walk along here is enough to get you into a different world – the crowds are left behind and you can easily find a corner to yourself. There are far fewer plants here, and the landscape is even more strange and striking, so despite the fact that sun had climbed a little higher the photo opportunities were still excellent.
By the way, despite the name, this is not sand! The white crystals are in fact gypsum, and in this part of New Mexico the dunes cover 275 square miles of desert creating the world's largest gypsum dunefield. Not all of this though is part of the National Monument, as much of it is off-limits on the White Sands Missile Range – these wide open spaces are ideal for such activities it seems. But thankfully the National Monument does preserve a large portion of the dunefield and make it accessible for us all to enjoy.
This is my last tip; if you wish you can return to my Intro page.
- National/State Park
Three Rivers Petroglyph Park
If you’re on State Highway 54 between Carriozo and Alamogordo, do yourself a favor and take the 5-mile detour (10 miles round trip) to visit Three Rivers Petroglyph Park. There are over 20,000 petroglyphs concentrated in an area about a half-mile from the parking lot. The number and quality of petroglyphs is staggering. They have been applied to a basalt outcropping on top of which the trail winds. In the background to the east are the stunning Sacramento Mountains and a small range of hills to the north whose name escape me. I would highly recommend going in the late afternoon/early evening to get the best light for photos as the sun at that time is shining on the mountains. There is a $3 fee to walk the trail to the petroglyphs.
You are allowed (and I would encourage) to go off the trail as well to better view the petroglyphs. Be careful, however, not to step on or otherwise touch the petroglyphs so as to save them for future generations to enjoy.
Located on State Highway 54 between Tularosa and Carrizozo. RV hookups and tent camping available.
Giant sand box
At the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies a mountain ringed valley called the Tularosa Basin. Rising from the heart of this basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico.
Here, great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert and have created the world's largest gypsum dune field. The brilliant white dunes are ever changing: growing, cresting, then slumping, but always advancing. Slowly but relentlessly the sand, driven by strong southwest winds, covers everything in its path. Within the extremely harsh environment of the dune field, even plants and animals adapted to desert conditions struggle to survive. Only a few species of plants grow rapidly enough to survive burial by moving dunes, but several types of small animals have evolved a white coloration that camouflages them in the gypsum sand.
White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this gypsum dune field, along with the plants and animals that have successfully adapted to this constantly changing environment.
January 1 - May 27 7a.m to Sunset
May 28 - September 5 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
September 6 - December 31 (Closed December 25) 7 a.m. to Sunset
$3 - 7 Days
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Off the path for a reason!
I wouldnt really call this an activity.. its more of a job or punishment for me. There is stuff to do here besides work, it takes an imagination. This is thearea that I reside, work and pretty much live in.
Alamogordo is a small town...
Alamogordo is a small town with a great view of the Sacramento mountains and White sands National monument. White sands is a desert of pure white gypsum that hosts thousands of visitors and sun bathers every year. The Sacremanto mountains are the home of the logest tunnel in the state and Sierra Blanca Peak. There is also a petraglyph site at the foot of the peak. Drawings made by Native Americans before the white man ever found this country!
Cloudcroft, although one of the most beautiful mountain spots in Southern New Mexico, is still relatively undiscovered as a tourist destination. The skiing is several miles away, although Cloudcroft has begun marketing itself to try to lure skiers into its motels.
This is a very small town, strung out along US 70 several thousand feet above Alamogordo in the Lincoln National Forest. The highlights of this place include the beauitful, natural setting, but also the historic lodge, built in 1899, which also features "Clue"-like "who-dunnit" experiences on some weekends. The National Solar Observatory, a must for geeks, is just down the road in Sunspot, which itself has no hotels.
The best time to come is in the winter when the snow is plentiful, although the road to Sunspot may be closed at that time. It's a huge contrast from the nearby basin and Alamogordo, and worth a trip.
While on the way to Carlsbad, we passed by the town of Cloudcroft which has some wonderful sceneries. Due to its altitude, we spotted some snow on the mountains!
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