We’ve been staying at Brantley Lake State Park, half an hour north of Carlsbad, NM. We amazed ourselves by not leaving our campground for our entire first week. That was a first! But this past weekend, we broke our stay-at-home streak to venture three hours west to White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo, NM.
The terrain changed dramatically over 158 miles. We left the desert brush to enter beautiful Lincoln National Forest. We climbed to Cloudcroft, a ski town with an Old West vibe, which sits at 8,668 feet. Then we dropped more than 4,300 feet in 16 miles (6% grade) before arriving in Alamogordo.
Alamogordo was the site of the Trinity test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon as part of the Manhattan Project. We’ve heard great things about the New Mexico Museum of Space History, but didn’t have a chance to visit this time (would love to hear from you if you’ve been there!).
Arriving at White Sands
The purpose of our visit was White Sands National Monument, the largest gypsum dune field in the world. At 275 square miles, the reach of the dunes is breath-taking.
We started at the Visitor’s Center, where we watched a 17-minute video about the creation of the dunes, their movement over time, and the adaptable life that grows and scurries in the sand.
Before we headed to the dunes, we stopped by the gift shop to purchase sleds. Our dear friend Jill Seesa at Vespa and a Laptop told us we couldn’t miss the sledding, and I’m so glad we listened! Sleds cost $15-17 depending on size and durability, but you can return them for a $5 refund.
Driving Through the Monument
Considering the size of the national monument, the 8-mile driving loop is surprisingly short. There are numerous places to stop along the way, including a boardwalk, walking trails and a backcountry camping trail.
Rangers offer tours and activities. On the day of our visit, there was a 5:30 PM sunset walking tour planned, among other things. Our friends from Tiny Shearers told us on Instagram that the park is open at night during full moons and other celestial events, and people are able to camp out on the dunes. Doesn’t that sound magical?
We drove near the end of the loop to Alkali Flat, where there were tons of hills for sledding. By sledding down the same path every time, you pack down the sand and are able to go faster. We found paths that had already been used for sledding, and we really picked up some speed!
Definitely don’t skip the wax they sell at the gift shop. You should wax before your first ride, and after every 2-3 slides down the dunes.
You can stay at White Sands National Monument all day, or for only an hour or two. Either way, what you see during your visit will be unforgettable. I could visit this place over and over again and never get tired of it.
Quick Note on Local Food
If you’re in the Alamogordo area during mealtime, check out Rockin’ BZ Burgers. They make what is arguably the best burger in town. They’re especially known for the Champ, a burger with grilled onions cooked into a half-pound patty of Angus beef, white American cheese, hatch green chile, lettuce and tomato. Eric, who is normally not adventurous when it comes to his beloved burgers, tried it and was impressed!