This post is part of a series of stories from our 2018 Spring Break road trip across New Mexico.
Click here for all posts.
We got into town late Monday night but woke up Tuesday morning to the true extent of the adorableness of our motel in White Sands.
Flashing neon on the marquee, real keys to unlock the bright blue doors, 25 rooms in the whole place, mountains in the distance, and not one single outlet in the bathroom. 1950s charm! We loved it so much! After a complimentary breakfast, we were off to the dunes at White Sands.
First things first, Picture By The Sign.
And a stamp in the National Park passport in the Visitors Center.
After securing a map and filling our water bottles, we were off into the dunes.
As we drove, the boys were disappointed at first because we’d all seen photos of white sand as far as the eye could see — and there was plenty of vegetation near the entrance. But just when they thought they’d been had — the greenery all but fell away and we were absolutely in the middle of a blinding white canvas.
We drove along the graded sand path and began to see clusters of people already setting up camp for the day — picnic tables, campers, coolers. It was a day at the beach — in the middle of the desert.
The boys couldn’t wait to find the perfect spot for sledding, and after doing a loop to get a lay of the land, we parked alongside another mom and boy duo, hoping to multiply the fun with another bundle of energy. Mason and his mom proved to be kindred spirits and it wasn’t long before the three boys were off and running. Climbing the dunes, racing down on sleds, wrestling in the sand — all against the backdrop of the gorgeous mountains and the bluest sky you’ve ever seen.
The sand was cool on our feet and powder-fine — the largest gypsum dune field of its kind anywhere on Earth. Climbing the dunes was certainly a workout, but the boys didn’t seem to mind. They absolutely wore themselves out running and sledding and chasing and giggling.
This day was about simple fun. We didn’t take any guided tours or hike the designated routes. We kept our eyes peeled for roadrunners (and didn’t see a ONE!) and just soaked in the incredible scenery.
Back at the Visitors Center, Colt and I watched a movie about the formation of the dunes and he really enjoyed the geological exhibits in the museum. Though we didn’t see any wildlife, he completed his Junior Ranger booklet and got sworn in before we headed out.
It was an outta-the-way, off-the-beaten-path, half-day excursion — but the boys LOVED IT. It’s tough to pick a favorite day of our week across New Mexico, but I’ll bet White Sands is near the top of the list for both Colt and Charles. And the sand was the gift that kept giving…
A few tips if you’re headed to White Sands:
- Bring what you need. We grabbed sunscreen and a snack in the Visitors Center for the sake of convenience — and paid a fortune. A stop at Walmart on our way out to the monument would have been smart.
- Be early birds! We were doorbusters and didn’t stand in line for a minute, but as we left midday the line in the gift shop to buy water, sunscreen and sleds was easily 20 people deep, and there were cars backed up at the gate waiting to get in. Get there early and get a jump on the dunes.
- Take advantage of NPS goodies. If you have a 4th grader, print off a pass and get your entire family into parks and monuments FREE! And check out the Junior Ranger program — the requirements and activities vary from park to park but it’s always a good way for kids to get engaged.
- Break out the GoPro. I did snap a few photos with my DSLR, but mostly kept it packed away because the sand was crazy and it just wasn’t worth the risk of scratching a lens. Even having it out for a few minutes, it needs a good de-sanding. If you’ve got a GoPro – White Sands is the perfect opportunity to strap it on and forget it — and get some beautiful POV shots.
- Wear a hat and/or sunscreen. There are no trees and absolutely no shade — protect your skin against the sun!
- Don’t go on a Tuesday. I’m usually better at travel homework than this… but everything else in the White Sands area was closed the day we were in town. We’d heard great things about the New Mexico Museum of Space History and planned to go after a morning at the dunes, but it was closed. We did find a small city zoo in Alamogordo that the boys loved for the afternoon, but I wished we’d planned better on that one.