White Sands National Monument is a beautiful pristine place but the white gypsum sands all present a few hazards.
While you may see notices such as this posted in the park on the NPS web site here are some things to consider while planning to come to the monument;
- Sand accumulates quickly on Dunes Drive and during high winds cars in back of you may have trouble seeing you. So if you must stop please pull off the road completely. Never park or stop in the middle of Dunes Drive.
- The white gypsum sands can be so blinding that it easy to become disoriented hiking. Always while hiking take an adequate supply of water, a compass, and try to mark or navigate by specific landmarks. Do not hike alone.
- A hat, sunglasses and sunblock are essential on nearly all days. Apply it frequently.
- Don't use your sand surf or board surf near a road. Sand boards can get out of control easily.
The desert conjures up images of sun seared skeletons of cattle gone astray and for good reason, this is one hot, sunny, dry place. Everyone knows you should drink lots of fluids but this is one place that Coke is not king. Water is the prefered choice but you must remember that you will be sweating even if it doesn't seem so. Your sweat will evaporate so you won't feel wet and sticky but make no mistake, you are losing valuable minerals especially salt. So, it's good to drink sports drinks like Gatorade. We always carried a large container of powdered Gatorade and this doubled to flavor tap water that might otherwise not taste all that great. Salty snacks are good and help with energy reserves. Finally, a scientific reason to eat potato chips.
My kids roamed around the white sand in endless abandon. However, as we were running about, a ranger with his group of about fifteen people passed by and she was talking about the animals that were roaming around the area – and I overheard the word “snakes”. Yikes!
At that exact moment, my son was going up and down a small hill and poking at little crevices with a stick….not a good idea!
So, I picked up my son and asked him to roll around the sand dunes instead…it was fun and we had excellent pictures to show off. But towards the end, my daughter accidently threw sand into my son’s face…he cried with sand all over his eyelids…Of course, first aid is not to scratch the eye but just wash the sand off with water --- scratching may cause the sand to abrade the cornea and that is one of the worst pains because the cornea has a lot of nerve fibers.
So, when with small kids, just keep a close watch on your kids and don’t get carried away with the beauty of the white sands…
The area of White sands is naturally hot ( 90-100s in May). The effect of the heat and sun is amplified by the whiteness of the dunes which reflects the sun back up at you. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen and sunglasses with you when you visit
It is so very easy to become lost in this terrain. As with all dune environments, all it takes is a little wind to change your landmarks. As a result, it is quite easy to loose your way.
So, leave your car, take the paths .. and even slide down a dune or two. BUT, DON'T wander out of sight of the road or your original path! You don't want to be found by vultures thinking your are a meal days later :)
I have an industrial strength bladder, and it certainly came in handy this day :)
After you leave the visitor center, there are a few, rare, porta-potty's to be found along Dune Road.
At this particular trailhead, of these 3 available structures, 2 were taped off w/ something very similar to crime scene tape - I looked closer to verify that it WASN'T - but, just to be safe ............. read the title :)
Because the white sands reflect so much light and heat, it's hotter here than in the surrounding desert regions. It's such a dry heat, your sweat evaporates quickly and you don't realize how much body fluid you are loosing.
Bring water with you on your walk to maintain proper hydration. If you are out by the time you reach the part, no worries!! The visitor center / gift shop at the entrance can sell you a bottle (or your can refill yours from the tap outside).
The monument is completely surrounded by White Sands Missile Range. This 4,000 square mile range is an important testing site for experimental weaponry and space technology. While tests are being conducted on the missile range both the park's Dune Drive and highway 70/82 between the park and Las Cruces may be closed for one to two hours for visitorýs safety. These closures may happen on the average of twice a week. Check the Visitor Center bulletin board for closure information.
Be aware that no water is available anywhere along the dunes drive, so fill up before venturing into the monument or at the Visitor Center. The gypsum-surfaced portion of the Dunes Drive can be slick when wet so drive carefully. White-sand reflects sunlight and it is easy to burn so be sure to use sunscreen with a large U.V. block number. Do not tunnel into the dunes as these can collapse easily and cause suffocation. When hiking in the dunes it is easy to become lost so be sure to orient yourself carefully to landmarks and markers along the way, and do not hike alone.
Again, I can't stress enough that these dunes, while beautiful and fun, are dangerous to be lost in. The lack of landmarks and the sameness of the row upon row of dunes can make a wrong turn a very dangerous proposition.
Therefore, if you're going backcountry, be sure to let a park ranger know. And if you're just hiking one of the other trails, be sure to stick to the marked path.
Don't hike beyond the park limits or you'll be smack dab in the center of a missle range! Don't worry too much though, it would take a concious effort to hike to the boundary. Also note that they will sometimes close down Rte 70 for and hour or two during missle testing.
Be careful to follow the orange bouys that mark the hiking trails when hiking and always try to keep two in sight. Without those bouys, there are no landmarks. It is scary how easy it would be to get lost in that environment. In the case of a bit of gusting wind, do not attempt to move if you can't see the next bouy.
Be careful when driving into the depths of the park. The constant movement of the dunes ensures that the road surface is constantly covered with a small amount of sand, This makes the road surface more slippery than you'ld expect.
Well, this is considered a desert, so, please watch out for the potential dangers of dehydration. Don't forget to wear sunblock (tons of it), a hat, sunglasses, lip balm and, as oddly as this might sound, clothes that cover your skin, so your sweat won't evaporate as fast as if you were wearing shorts and a tiny top. The sun reflects from the sand, so you will get hit from all sides - it's the perfect tanning booth ;). I don't have to mention that you must bring water, do i?