Things to Do in Stunning White Sands New Mexico
Hey Jetsetters and Texans! I am excited to add another post to my Mini Vacation Travel series! If you have not already read my Marfa, Texas post, my husband and I did a 3-Day weekend trip to Marfa and New Mexico. We like to do mini vacations whenever we go in addition to big international trips. Sometimes small trips is all that is needed to feel relaxed and experience something extraordinary. This post is describing our experience to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico! We loved White Sands and it’s a must see/do experience! I will discuss how to get here, what you need know, what you need to bring and things to do white visiting White Sands, National Monument in NM!
Things to Do in White Sands NM – How To Get Here
The closest airport to get to White Sands is El Paso International airport. You can drive from Dallas, but it would be a very long drive. So we decided to get a flight to El Paso so we can do both Marfa & White Sands in the same trip. I find all my flights on Skyscanner just download the app here or bookmark Skyscanner’s link here and set up flight alerts! The drive from El Paso was about 1 hour and 40mins. There was never traffic going there, but watch out for state troopers and US Border Patrol. I have my White Sands travel tips at the end of this post. The last major city that you will pass through before getting to the White Sands is Las Cruces. I suggest that you make your food & gas stops here. After that, it is really rural and less food options. You can eat at White Sands, but there are no nearby restaurants for miles. The shop does sell some things, but it is best to pack a lunch and bring it with you especially water. It is a desert and people get dehydrated all the time while visiting. So be smart and pack accordingly!
Things to Do in White Sands NM – Fees & Entrance
White Sands National Monument is opened all year round except for Christmas from 7am to 9pm. The last entrance allowed is usually about 1 hour before closing. The closing times actually changes through the year so definitely check online for confirmation. The best thing about entrance fee is that is $5.00 per person and that fee is good for 6 days! So we ended up visiting White Sands twice. You should definitely check the website and found out their Fee Free Days where every year, the National Park Service picks certain holidays to waive the entrance fees.
Before actually going to the gate where you pay, stop at the Visitor Center to use the bathroom, rent/buy plastic saucers to slide down the dunes. You can buy them and they will buy them back once you are done or you can rent them. I actually wanted to slide down the dunes but I didn’t realize the rentals were only at the Visitor Center and not a spot at the dunes themselves. You will see many families and kids sliding down the dunes. We still had a great time exploring the dunes and sunset and scenery. The sunsets are very beautiful here too! Seeing the color changes on the mountains – oranges, reds ,purples was so amazing to see. Also another unique option that we would like to do next time is to Backcountry Camping at the dunes. For just an additional $3 per person, you can enjoy a night under the dark skies and stars. I have seen some of the internet photos and these skies are AMAZING! Check out the link in the camping photo below for more photos.
Things to Do in White Sands NM – Why Is The Sand White?
The drive up the trails to the dunes was incredible! I did instastory videos and everyone said it looked like snow and that is exactly what it seemed like while we were driving! So the sand is actually not true sand. What you think is sand it is actually selenite crystals which is a form of the mineral gypsum. When heated and the water within the mineral is evaporated out & gypsum recrystallizes and it becomes very fine. At White Sands, the surrounding mountains have snow which would melt and settle in Lake Lucero and when it gets hot, the water evaporates. When this happens the dissolved minerals recrystallize and form selenite crystals. These crystals are very brittle and fragile and with the winds, it eventually created these dunes over thousands of years.
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Things to Do in White Sands NM – The Trail
So when you go through the entrance, they will give you a brochure with map! Look at it! We were so excited to be there we did not even look at it and found spot and explored and took pictures and went to the hotel. That night I did research on why we did not see the dunes without the plants. I figured people airbrushed them out of something or found a rare spot. The area that we stopped was where a bunch of cars were parked at which was where the boardwalk was located at. This was not even half the trail, but we had a couple of more MILES of trail to drive that we did not even see. The further up the trail you went the less plant life you saw. You should definitely stop and see the boardwalk because you can learn about the animals, critters and plant life that is found in White Sands. We walked it and it is a beautiful sight!
So we decided to return to White Sand for a second trip before we flew back home and drive deeper in the trail. We were SO happy that we did so! The trail further north was so beautiful! It really made you think that you were somewhere out of this world. It was much windier the 2nd day and we actually saw a sandstorm approaching which was quite cool! No as bad as that one scene in Mission Impossible but when you saw it you knew exactly what it was. Thankfully the storm did not reach us but it was still very windy to the point that the trail was covered in sand you just had to follow the tire marks and drive slowly. We drove to the Backcountry camping area. There was a parking lot area where you can leave your car and picnic tables to each at. It was cloudy and very windy at first and we decided to wait it out a bit and then the clouds broke and the wind eased up and were able to really enjoying the beauty! We did not want to leave! It was sooo beautiful. My bucket list item was to dress all fancy and take photos in the middle of the desert! And that is exactly what we did! It something that everyone should experience and see – going to a real desert. We definitely want to go back!
Sandstorm Tip✔: Watch the highway alerts about sandstorms approaching. It gives instructions on what you should do if you are in the middle of one and how to be safe. We hit a small one on the way back to El Paso.
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Things to Do in White Sands NM – Tips
- Time Zone – New Mexico & El Paso are in the same time zone which is an hour behind Dallas. Dallas & Marfa have the same time zone. Keep that in mind when planning out your trip.
- Know Your Bearings – You can easily get lost in the dunes. In the backcountry area where there are no plants or markers, you can lose your sense of direction. The wind will erase your footsteps in minutes and you can find yourself lost if you venture out too far and with no gps. Be aware of what direction you are walking from. We tried to always be able to see people in the distance.
- Don’t Speed! – Just like with my tip with Marfa, it is the same for White Sands. When driving from El Paso, you are very close to the Mexican border- more close going to New Mexico than to Marfa. State troopers are out and US Border Patrols. Watch your speed constantly because they are ready to pull people over for any reason. Remember that the left lane is for passing only. That is a quick way to get pulled over if you drive in the left lane.
- Bring your Passport & ID – As I mentioned above US Border Patrol is on alert! On our trip I we were told that the Border Patrol are looking for drugs and people who are illegally in the country. The first time we had to go through the checkpoint right before hite Sands entrance, it was such a hassle, but our second visit the next day it was a breeze. I thought they were not going to let us in because the officer – evidently- did not believe that my husband was Italian. The first thing that came out of the officers mouth was “What nationality are you?” My husband does look Spanish and we even brought both of our passports. He quickly gave mine back and went through EVERY SINGLE PAGE of my husband’s Italian passport though, asked him all these questions and then asked for his green card and he still did not release us right away. So just bring them just in case.
- Rent a Car with Navigation – We were so glad we got upgraded to Ford Fusion that had navigation. GPS does not really work well when driving on the long road to White Sands. I mean you cannot get lost when you are on the main road to White Sands National Monument because you are going to run into the checkpoint and then see the entrance. You can see the white sand before the checkpoint and that is how you know you are close.. Many times we had no reception meaning you cannot depend on your GPS on your phone.
- Bring Water & Food– There are not a lot of food options once you pass Las Cruces. Be sure to bring your own food and water to also save money in having to buy from the visitor center. people get dehydrated a lot at White Sands.
- Bring Sunglasses– The reflection of the sun on the white sand can make it very bright especially on a sunny day. Also due to the winds, you can get sand in your eyes really easily too.
I hope you found this guide helpful! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below and I will answer them! Thanks for reading!