When the landscape becomes a mirage, that the White Blind you and make you lose your bearings ... Snow, Sand ? What is this strange horizon, unreal ? There, in the middle of New Mexico stand up a white desert where the sweetness dunes makes you totally forget the austerity of such an environment.
White Sands Duneswhere to stay subjugated by his white dunes!
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a first April, the 1st of April 2016. We had spent the night at Roswell, this famous "Alien city"but we'll talk about it later, and the snow had begun to fall. There, on the first of April, in the city of little plastic green guys and flying saucers, the flakes fell one after the other, bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger, a hell of April!
We decided to take the road to White Sands.
A beautiful road, winding, mountainous and wooded. It's almost like being in the Alps. There is even ski resorts in the corner. Surprising, the landscape was gradually covered with a white coat. The sky was dark, foggy and thick, and the temperatures continued to drop as we swam the miles. Only on the road, the show was our!
Then in the distance, a mirage, as a hallucination... A blue and bright breakthrough! The sky was like pierced, like a signal (or the attack of an alien ship if Roswell has disturbed you a little), to indicate that the desert heat is there, far away but close. A desert surrounded by mountains peeled and sprinkled with snow at peaks.
Near the city of Alamogordo, White Sands National Monument is located in the Tularosa basin and it is by the US70, the only access, that we join the park.
In the hollow of San Andres Mountains and Sacramento Mountains, it is the largest gypsum desert in the world. These sand dunes Driven by the wind are constantly waving and redrawing the landscape and their color changes throughout the day.
Yet, despite its beauty and its particularity, this National Monument is less visited than these neighbors of Utah, which suits us well!
Arrived at the end of the morning, we are lucky, the park is open! Because in addition to schedules that vary depending on the season, it can be closed a few hours because of the Sands Missile Range. A military complex nearby, which often performs some missile launch tests ... Welcome to the USA ...
After a visit to the Visitor Center (the reception of the park), we borrow the only road that crosses the site: the Dunes Drive. A road that is very fast covered with white sand and that sinks as its name indicates in the dunes ...
The sun is at the highest and the flashing light.
We have a first break for lunch, there are structures to shelter from burning sun. After regaining strength, we decide to explore the area. Other visitors rented toboggans and have fun at to hit the slopes
of snow white sand.
We decide to go further, at the end of the park. There we can go explore the dunes alone on the Alkali Flat Trail (which only has “flat” in name…), away from other visitors. The landscape is exceptional: the perspective, the contrasts, the intense blue sky. It's barefoot (be careful, it's not necessarily a good idea depending on the period), that we strolled for several hours here, always having more or less in sight the few pickets that meander and form a kind of marked path. . One can be easily confused here, even with the sun as a benchmark.
The desert captivated us and the hours flew by. The opportunity to attend the sunset. It was magical That day. Sitting on the dunes we stood there contemplating a place that seemed almost like an anomaly in the landscape (just see a satellite view to understand). A place that will leave us an imperishable memory. We will come back one day ... that's for sure!
“Leave No Trace”
It is one of the mottos of the National Parks, “Leave no trace”. These ecosystems are fragile and unique, if you visit them (and like everywhere else for that matter), please take your waste with you and/or deposit it in the containers provided for this purpose.
- Alkali Flat Trail / 8kms / Easy: a loop of 5 miles, or 8 km of walking if you follow the stakes, which wind through the dunes. We are of course not obliged to do the big tour and we can cut at any time, but be careful not to get lost. It is also necessary to register on a notebook before going there for security. And don't forget to pack water.
- Tobogganing on the dunes: You can buy saucer sleds on site at the visitor center, and then resell them at the same place but for less ... Why not rent them? No idea ... The good plan is to stop at Walmart Alamogordo before coming. There are toboggans on sale directly at the entrance for half the price!
- Open all year except in case of missile fire: The park can close sometimes for 3h maximum because of missile launching from the nearby military base. Inquire 24h before at the visitor center.
- Variable hours following the season (see the official website): usually the park closes at sunset.
- Price: $ 20 per day per vehicle, annual pass for this park $ 40, annual pass for all parks in the US $ 80
- Official site : www.nps.gov/whsa
- The "Scenic Drive" 8 miles or 13 km across the gypsum dunes. Be careful not to leave under pain of fine! You can of course stop at different places to observe the landscape or go for a walk, being careful to take a few pointers at the risk of getting lost. The round trip by car (without stops) will take you about 45 minutes.
- The Backcountry: Sleeping in a tent is possible here but there is no camping. All you have to do is ask for a “backcountry permit” to sleep in the middle of the dunes. Price: adult 3$, child under 15: 1.5$. No possibility of sleeping in a van on site.
- To sleep for free in van: landing at Walmart Alamogordo is free and just a few miles away. It's not ideal, of course, but it can allow you to be there early in the morning or to leave the park at the last hour without stress. That's what we did !
- A Hotel / Motel? : There is an embargo of choice also in Alamogordo.
- Dogs are allowed on a leash.
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- The biggest pistachio in the world 🙂
- Roswell the city of little green men