Last summer, right before my fellowship started, D and I decided to take a road trip that I’d been wanting to do since we moved to Arizona.
Actually, a visit to White Sands National Monument was on my list of requirements when deciding to move to AZ (instead of L.A.), along with a trip to Page, to see Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, and to Arches National Park.
We didn’t really have a plan, other than White Sands and we had 3 or 4 days before we had to be back, so we just loaded up our tent and headed out, which is, in my opinion, the only way to road trip.
D had never been to Texas, so we made a slight detour to have lunch (Tex-Mex, obviously) in El Paso before heading up into New Mexico. I really wanted to make another detour to Truth or Consequences because I can’t think of a cooler town name, but I had already gotten sidetracked by some lunch margaritas, and we wanted to make it to White Sands before dark.
Alamogordo is the nearest town to White Sands, and our plan was to stay in the area for two nights, camping on the dunes the first night, and then staying in town the second night.
I’d seen pictures of White Sands before we went, but pictures can be misleading. As we started getting closer to the monument, I started to see sand on the side of the road, and I wasn’t sure if it was THE sand; it was white, but not as white as I thought it would be. But then we came around a bend in the road, and I saw the actual dunes, and there is no mistaking it, it is blindingly white. It looks like fresh snow.
We got to the visitor center around 3:00 pm, and learned about the camping options, there were open spots but it was about a mile hike each way from the parking lot, which wouldn’t have been a problem normally, but by the time we got there it was so. freaking. cold out. And super windy. I’m pretty sure our tent would have blown away in the night with us inside of it. So we decided to camp in town that night, and come back and stay at the monument the next day instead.
In case you aren’t familiar, parts of White Sands are used for missile testing, the first test of an atomic bomb was actually done there. They still do tests, including the night after we arrived, so we weren’t able to camp on the dunes that night either. You can call ahead to check the schedule, if you’re so inclined, or you can be like me and just show up and see.
We stayed out on the dunes for sunset, the wind did end up dying down a little bit, but it was too late to camp by then. The dunes are so gorgeous, it’s really stunning to see, especially at sunset. You can also rent little saucers to go sledding down the dunes, but I’m not the most coordinated and decided the emergency room in Alamogordo was a site I could probably skip.
We stayed overnight at the KOA in Alamogordo, and had a couple of drinks around the campfire with a guy we met from Seattle who was road tripping around the entire outside perimeter of the U.S. The next morning, we packed up, and basically flipped a coin to decide if we were going to keep going northeast to Santa Rosa (dyinggg to go here), northwest to Four Corners, or head back south.
I would definitely recommend a visit to White Sands if you’re going to be near the area, it’s really stunning and has an interesting history. And luckily, I didn’t find out that the area around White Sands was the inspiration for the movie The Hills Have Eyes until I was safely back in Arizona, or I probably wouldn’t have slept at all.