This past weekend we had the most FANTASTIC day playing in the dunes at White Sands National Monument. Our planned route through New Mexico had us visiting White Sands the last week of April. But when we realized it was only about an hour out of the way as we drove from Rockhound SP to Leasburg Dam SP, we figured why not go now? So instead of heading straight to the campground, we drove the extra hour to White Sands, spent the day, drove back to Las Cruces where we overnighted at a Walmart, then headed up to Leasburg Dam on Sunday. It added a little more than two hours of extra driving to our day, and about seven hours of extra fun! Compared to many national parks, White Sands had a really informal feel to it. While you do have to pay to get in-$3/person or free with your America the Beautiful Pass- and there is a single road you have to follow into the park, once you’re on the road you can choose from hundreds of possible parking spots. Some with picnic shelters, some near pit toilets, and others wherever you can find a spot in one of the large, white sand-caked parking lots surrounded by dunes. We first parked in a small pull-off next to a tall dune, but then decided to drive a farther down the road near the end of the road so we could be close to the Alkali Flat Trail. The above photo of our second parking spot was taken near the end of the day when most of the crowds had left. But when we first arrived it was busy, busy, busy. Given that it was a Saturday, nearly 80-degrees, and school vacation week, we expected to see some crowds. What we didn’t expect was that so many families and large groups of people treat a day at the dunes like they would a day at the beach. We saw lots of pop-up shade tents, beach chairs, grills, plastic buckets and shovels, and all that other paraphernalia that people lug to the beach. I totally intended to take some pictures of the various set-ups, but by the time we got back from our long hike, most of the large groups had cleared out. The big difference between a dune day and beach day is that instead of swimming and splashing in the waves, people were climbing and then sliding down the dunes. We didn’t have sleds, and didn’t want to shell out $15 bucks each for the sleds at the gift shop, so no sledding for us. Neither of us really cared, because we’ve both done our fair share of sledding (the cold kind), and in the end had such a blast hiking around the dunes that sledding was not missed at all. We started off with the intention to hike the 5-mile round trip Alkali Flat Trail. But only a little ways in turned off the trail and made our own way through the dunes. I am not sure how far we hiked altogether, but I do know that we went up and down countless dunes, and by the time we got back nearly four hours had passed, so it must have been a good distance. I tried my best to narrow down the photos from our hike, but it was nearly impossible. So here’s a bunch. It was about 5:30 when we got back to the Airstream, and since we wanted to stay for sunset we hung out and relaxed for a few hours. As it got close to sunset we moved one more time over to the far western edge of the parking lot. From there we climbed up the dunes above us to watch as the sand changed colors and the sun sank behind the San Andres Mountains. The park closes at 8 pm which meant we had to leave right after sunset. Too bad they don’t allow overnight camping because I bet the sunrise is just as amazing as the sunset. White Sands has long been high on my wish list of places to go, and I can honestly say it did not disappoint. That was definitely the best day at the beach without water we’ve ever had!
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