With this trip hastily planned after our cruise was cancelled, we had not included White Sand National Park on our list. It was a last minute decision, but so glad we did…
White Sands NP is located in the southeast corner of New Mexico. It was originally established as a National Monument in 1933, and changed to a National Park in December 2019. Since we were there in March of 2020, most of the signage had not been changed. The park encompasses 145,762 acres. The park is almost completely surrounding by the White Sands Missile Range to north and Holloman Air Force Base to the east. As such, 60% of the park is not accessible to the public due to the missile range activities. In fact the park is closed on missile testing days…just in case they miss.
We stopped at the visitors center, mostly to ask if we could take the motor home and Jeep in the park. We were assured that the pullouts were very large. While at the center, we watched the informational video, well worth the time.
The white sand is actually gypsum that was left from the ancient Permian Sea. The gypsum is deposited in the San Andres mountains to the west. For thousands of years, rain and snow melt, have carried the gypsum flakes to the valley floor, being deposited and as the water evaporates, forming delicate selenite crystals. The crystals are further broken down mostly by wind, with the end result being a dense white sand.
With information in hand we started on the 8 mile drive to Alkali Flat Trail. The roads are plowed after heavy winds or rain storms.
We stopped at the Interdune Boardwalk to learn about the plants and animals that live and thrive on the dunes, like the soaptree yucca and the skunkbrush.
As the sand is constantly moving due to wind, the soaptree yucca, keeps growing higher to stay above the sand. Some of the yuccas are over 30 feet tall, but you can only see a few feet of the plant. The bad thing is when the sand moves away and exposes the tall plant structure, it can not support it’s weight and it collapses.
The skunkbrush has a different approach. It too continues to grow above the shifting sand, however, it sends out an extensive root system, so that when the sands shift, it has a mound to support itself.
The animals on the dunes have evolved to change their color so that they blend into the white sand.
We continued to a pullout ( and they were big as promised) near the Alkali Flat Trailhead and had lunch.
We grabbed some water and headed onto the trail. We weren’t sure what to expect by walking on the sand. Since it is gypsum sand, it stays cooler and is also denser. This makes it ideal to walk on. The day we were there, we had a very light breeze and it had rained the day before, so the sand was compacted and firm. It was not hot to walk on.
The trail is marked by large red posts. However, due to shifting sands, some posts are not as visible as others.
It is approximately 2.5 miles to the end of the trail at Alkali Flats. It was acres and acres of sand to cross.
We had fun taking pictures..
Alkali Flats is the cooperative boundary between the national park and the air force base. There is no entry allowed as this is near the southern edge of the White Sand Missile Range. It was established in 1945 for testing. To date, there have been over 42,000 missile and rocket launches. In the far northern section, is a place called Trinity Site, which is where the worlds’s first atomic bomb test took place. This is definitely a restricted area!!
The flats are where the sand particles are created by the wind. This is where the dunes officially start.
Even though we had a 2.5 mile hike back across the dunes, it had been interesting to walk.
The entire park is fascinating, even the picnic area!!!
We left White Sand NP and headed towards Carlsbad. We made a brief stop at McGinns Pistachio Tree Ranch in Almaogordo. They have the self-proclaimed, largest pistachio in the world at 30 feet high. They had a sample area that we very much enjoyed. Our favorite was the pistachio brittle…wow!!!
Again, this was not a very well-planned trip, so finding a camping area for the night was extremely difficult. It took 5 stops and a few phone calls, but we finally found a spot in the town of Midway. It wasn’t fancy, but we needed a place to leave the motor home as our next 2 parks, were not RV friendly in terms of parking and access. We got all set-up and enjoyed a late night dinner in the motor home, Cheeseburger Macaroni 🙂