White Sands National Monument
Location: Alamogordo, NM
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, behind the gift shop
In the middle of the New Mexico desert lies huge sand dunes of soft white sand. White Sands National Monument is a little out-of-the-way but is an amazing stop on any southwest journey. The park offers hiking, backcountry hiking and most importantly sand sledding. The park is adjacent to White Sands Missile Range which is an active testing facility. There are times that testing at the missile range will close the park. Be sure to check park closures before driving to the park.
Before you enter the park stop in the Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center has a small bookstore, ranger station, bathrooms (I didn’t see facilities anywhere else in the park) and water filling station. Make sure you bring plenty of water. The park while beautiful offers no shade anywhere on the dunes. Attached to the visitor’s center is also a larger gift shop. The gift shop sold some premade sandwiches, some bottled drinks, normal souvenir items and they had sled rentals and wax for sale. Just a warning while we were there the sled rentals were actually unavailable. If you are able to bring your own sleds I highly recommend that. We purchased just basic round snow sleds online for about $10 each before the trip. We purchased two cubes of wax from the gift shop. These worked perfectly fine out on the dunes.
Dunes Drive is the main road through the park. It stretches eight miles from the Visitor’s Center into the sand dunes. Part of the road is paved and the remained is packed sand. The packed sand is very dense so it is very easy to drive on with any type of vehicle. Several hiking trails will take you across the sand dunes or the alkali flats. Our stay at Chiricahua that morning had taken longer than expected so we did not do any hiking.
The Ranger had suggested for the best sledding to drive Dunes Drive out past the pavement. The higher the dune the better it is to sled. Sand sledding is not quite the same as sledding on snow. Even with the wax on the sled, the friction of the sand prevents you from sledding as fast you think you would even on the steeper dunes. Also for a better sledding experience try to make a track in the sand and continue to sled down the same track.
One of the most amazing things I found was the temperature of the sand. We arrived at the park about 4:00 in the afternoon. After stopping at the Visitor’s Center for restrooms, water, Jr Ranger program, wax and souvenirs, we were entering the dunes about 5:00. The air temperature was in the high 90’s. The sand was warm but not hot to the touch. We were able to play on the dunes in bare feet. The sand is soft and if you get about two inches below the surface it is cool. We spent about an hour sledding on the dunes. Everyone had a great time.
Overall: White Sands was probably my favorite stop of the whole trip. The park was not crowded. There were a few other groups but there is plenty of room to spread out on the dunes. The sand was amazing. If I could redo our trip, I would give us additional time at White Sands. The rangers host a sunset hike across the dunes, which would have been fun. I would also have packed shovels and pails for the toddlers. The two younger kids got bored with sledding after a few times down but they loved burying their feet in the sand so I think they would have had a lot of fun with some basic sand toys. Also just like the beach you are going to take part of White Sands home with you whether you want to or not. Have a towel handy to try to brush everyone off before getting back in the car.