Imagine being stuck in a snowstorm, except the sky is sapphire blue and the temperatures are soaring into the 100’s. That is what my experience was like in White Sands National Monument.
Climbing upon dunes over 20 feet tall, once you’ve reached the top you’re in a white wonderland. The layers are endless, sparkling and shimmering as far as the eye can see. The wind is a constant, continually shifting the sand over your footprints. Every few moments the landscape is a blank canvas.
The Monument is located in Southwestern New Mexico, 190 miles West of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. If you go in High Summer as I did, be prepared for the overwhelming hotness of the desert. The sand's alluring beauty can be dangerous in temperatures of 90 or higher. There is no shade here.
To be safe, we waited until a couple hours until sunset before setting out onto the dunes. The park road weaves through the lower dunes. Every so often there is a pull out and you can walk across the sandy, grassy fields and begin climbing to your heart's content.
Here is the view while standing on the edge of the dunes, looking across the dry grassy plains of New Mexico:
Miraculously, the sand offers life to some of the bravest and toughest plants to grow in the desert, such as the Skunkbush Sumac and the Soaptree Yucca.
I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my favorite trees, a Cottonwood, thriving in the white sand.
Standing under its shade was a very surreal experience.
As you walk across the dunes, you see subtle signs of life all over the place. Here are the footprints of a Whiptail Lizard:
The dunes cover approximately 275 square miles of land, creating the largest White Sand Desert on the planet.
There is more than enough space in this park to find yourself alone in a sparkling patch of solitude. Just be careful. It would be easy to lose yourself here.
Along with the wind, there is another striking element that changes these dunes as each moment of the day goes on. Light. The pure white sand picks up on the colors of the sky, and changes with it throughout the day.
The sun sets and bathes the sand that has escaped shadows in pure gold.
If you’re out there with your camera, you have to be quick. The light moves fast. Standing atop a particularly tall dune, I watched the whole landscape change before my eyes in a matter of moments.
Be careful of blowing sand. It will get in your eyes, and it will certainly make its way into your camera. As the sun continues to go down, the wind picks up. The ground will be a thin layer of moving sand.
This particular night in July, there was a massive storm heading in from the West, just where the sun was setting. I watched the lightning flash from inside the colored clouds. It was too beautiful for words.
My ‘True World’ sand graffiti barely lasted one minute in the ever changing sand.
Here is one of the dunes as I was heading back towards the car. It was almost completely dark. The tones and colors of the sky are reflected almost perfectly in the sand.
White Sands National Monument is truly one of the most stunning places I have ever set eyes on. It felt like a living dream.