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Sensational White Sands National Monument at sunset!

White Sands National Monument is a giant sandbox in the Tularosa Basin of the southern New Mexico desert – about 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo. It’s not a famous place, or a big place, or a multi-faceted place, but it is definitely a place worth visiting, especially if you enjoy photography.

The world’s largest gypsum dunefield

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The monument includes 275 square miles of gypsum sand dunes, plus the plants and animals that thrive here. The visitor center has great gifts and books, is very informative and shows an excellent film describing how the dunes are formed. Best to see that before you enter the park so you will understand what you are gawking at.

From there, it’s a scenic drive into the dunes. The first few miles of the road seem normal, but when you enter the dunes, you are driving on hard sand. If you had fallen asleep in the car and awakened in the middle of it, you would think you were surrounded by snow drifts – that’s how white the sand is.  They use snow plows to keep the road clear as the sand and wind continue to try to reclaim the road.


 Shapes and Shadows


What to do at White Sands National Monument?

There are other things to do besides taking in the stark beauty and snapping pictures, but they all involve the sand dunes in one way or another – hiking, camping, picnicking, sledding (Yep!), and wilderness backpacking for the hardy.

For photography, there may not be as many colors to work with, but there are so many fun shapes, angles, shadows, layers, and dimensions to inspire your creativity.

Just park your car and walk a few dunes over and you’ll find plenty of subject matter.

Sound carries! We were standing on different slopes about 200 yards apart and could hear each other talk as if only a few feet apart!


Enjoy the 360 degree views as the colors change!

Go just after sunrise or just before sunset so that the shadows of the dunes are longer and the ripples in the sand have more definition.  The clouds, plus the angle of the sun on the dunes can create lots of variations to the color white.

If you’re lucky, the sunset could be spectacular!

Snow boots at White Sands National Monument in the desert?

Be sure to dress appropriately. The temperature can change drastically after the sun goes down. Yes, those are SNOW boots Sheila’s wearing! We were dressed for sunny NM and AZ, but had our CO warm clothes in the car. Considering that the sand looks like snow, it seemed oddly appropriate. Also, bring plenty of water – once you leave the visitor center, it’s hard to come by. Expect to get sand in your car and in every pocket of your clothing, especially if it’s breezy.

Trip Date: December 2015 More stories from our home exchange in Arizona will include Saguaro National Park, Desert Museum, historic Tubac and Golf.

RTG Helpful Hints

For the latest news, hours and fees, see White Sands National Park Service.

? Nationals Monuments don’t get the love that National Parks do. Which ones have you enjoyed?


  1. Dee Baggs
    December 29, 2015 at 10:12 AM — Reply

    Sheila, I am glad Tom explained about your boots!! It seems like you were on a FL beach with the white sand!!LOL Just kidding!! Are the people allowed to snowboard in this area like they do at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in CO. ?? I saw an article about this in magazine!! Continue to have a safe trip!!

    • Avatar photo
      January 10, 2016 at 9:50 AM — Reply

      Hey Dee, apparently Jen did sled on the dunes (cool!), but I don’t know about snowboarding – probably not enough vertical drop.

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