White Sand as far as the eye can see! Beautiful waves and dunes of sand cover 275 square miles of land near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Approaching from Cloudcroft, a mountain village with an altitude of about 10,000 feet, the view of White Sands in the distance with a mountain background was spectacular.
Surrounded by military installations, White Sands National Monument, the largest gypsum sand dune field in the world, was an unusual environment to explore. White Sands Missile Range surrounds the place and was where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Holloman Air Force Base was just east of here and a few miles farther on you will find a landing site for space shuttles.A couple times a week, traffic will be stopped for a few hours as test missiles are being shot overhead. This is truly an interesting place for those interested in space travel, as in nearby Alamogordo you can find the International Space Hall of Fame.
Reaching White Sands National Monument, first stop is the Visitors Center, which was a 1938 WPA project constructed of adobe in Spanish pueblo style. Adobe bricks are usually sixteen inches long, ten inches wide, and four inches thick so this is a solid building which has stood the test of time. Two men would work all day to form about a hundred bricks. Set in a landscape of native plants, this is truly a Welcome Center to the area.
Outside it is time to explore. Don’t forget your water bottle because if the sun shines, this can be a very hot desert scene. This is an especially unusual scene as gypsum is seldom found in the form of sand. But located here in a basin, the white gypsum is captured, because there is no outlet to the sea. The dunes are constantly changing shapes as tiny grains of sand are blown into ripples across the vast white desert. This area, with shelters inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, makes a great place for a rest, or to watch the antics of others on the dunes.
You will probably want to take a leisurely drive through the White Sands area, just to get the feel of things. There was a paved road for a couple of miles, and then you were on your own, to decide if you wanted to venture off driving on the gypsum highway through the hills of sand.
There were also a couple of walking trails – one mile-long path through the sand and another an actual boardwalk. Climbing to the top of one of these large dunes is a challenge and fun. But this is one place where coming down is the hard part! Children have the right idea here as they use saucers or cardboard and slide down the dunes, resembling what a youngster would do with a sled in the snow.
Animals lived in this ocean of white sand in an evolved state as they became part of their environment and were thus camouflaged against the white desert scene. Salamanders, spiders and the Bleached Earless Lizard were white…just like the sand.
White Sands National Monument is in southern New Mexico along U.S. Highway 70, which can be reached off I-25 from Las Cruces or off U.S. Highway 54 from Alamogordo. Personally think the approach over the Sacramento Mountains on U.S. Highway 82 gives a great overview. Remember the roads may be closed at times for missile testing with a possible wait of several hours.