Lost in the bright white gypsum sand dunes of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

White Sands National Monument is one of the most unique natural wonders you can visit out West, or elsewhere for the matter. In isolated Southern New Mexico, you will come across a fascinating place where striking white gypsum sand dunes contrast beautifully amongst the clear blue skies of the Chihuahuan Desert. The white sand is so soft to the touch that you will feel as if you are walking across a fresh blanket of winter snow. It’s quite an unusual place which seemingly pops up out of nowhere in the middle of barren desert land.

The fascinating gypsum sand dunes of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

And what’s even more interesting, is that you can (and will see) lots of people actually sledding down the dunes. The sand is surprisingly really cool to the touch as gypsum sand does not easily convert the sun’s heat. This is a good thing in the hot desert of New Mexico where summer temps can soar past 100 on a daily basis. Your feet will enjoy walking on the cool, soft sand!

Enjoying the views at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

As soon as you start the scenic loop drive around the park, you will want to get out of your car, toss off your shoes, and walk up, down, and across the smooth soft dunes which appear to go on forever. The great thing about White Sands is that you are basically free to go wherever you please. Simply walk, sled, take photos, or relax on whichever dune you like – there’s no need to follow a specific trail.

There’s plenty of space here for everyone despite the heavy traffic the park sees on a daily basis. Really, White Sands is one place where you truly feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere.

The rare bright white gypsum sand dunes of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico
Standing atop a sand dune at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico
Walking barefoot across the soft gypsum sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

The history of White Sands

The area where the dunes now stand was home to a deep lake millions of years ago. This lake was layered with gypsum sand which is typically water soluble, however, much of the gypsum remained because it was created more quickly than it could be dissolved. When the lake’s water evaporated, the gypsum was broken down into selenite, which is what gives the sand the amazing bright white hue we see today. There is a nice visitor’s center where you can watch a little history video on the area and also stroll past a number of educational exhibits. If you want to try sledding down the dunes (you should -it’s a blast!), you can pick up a sled in the visitor’s center. Also check with your hotel as many have sleds readily available for guests.

Read more about the history of White Sands

An easy day trip from anywhere in Southern New Mexico

White Sands really is an incredibly unusual place that you need to check out if you are traveling through the area. I would not necessarily go out of my way to visit as there are plenty of mesmerizing destinations across the country. However, it’s definitely worth a look for anyone looking for a nice addition to any Southern New Mexico vacation!

White Sands is an easy day trip from Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and Roswell, so be sure to add it to your itinerary if you are visiting any of these nearby cities.

Location & Admission

Directions to White Sands

Hours are 7am-6pm (open til 9 in summer)

Admission is $15 per person/$25 vehicle or you can purchase an annual national parks pass for $80 bucks which is good for an entire year (a fantastic deal if you plan on visiting several parks in the upcoming year).