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Holloman Air Force Base

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White Sands National Monument located in southern New Mexico houses the largest gypsum dune field in the world. What makes this so special is that gypsum is rarely found as sand because it dissolves when in contact with water. However, given the isolated location and unique weather of the area, as the water evaporates the minerals are left behind creating gypsum deposits that eventually form these glistening white sand dunes.

White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument

As we were researching a place to camp using Campendium, we found a FREE dry camping spot only 5 minutes away from White Sands National Monument.  The spot was located on a small lake right next to Holloman Air Force base.  It was common to see the jets fly overhead and about once a day you would hear a sonic boom which my husband absolutely LOVED!  Don’t worry, the jets don’t fly at night so it did not affect our sleeping. If you like things fast, shiny and loud (and free) this is the place for you!

Dry Camping in New Mexico
Dry Camping in New Mexico

The next morning as we drove to White Sands National Monument, I kept looking out the window thinking “Where are all the dunes”?  If you see pictures of White Sands National Monument you see endless sand dunes, but as you drive to it, you don’t see much of anything.  It’s not until you go through the entrance and keep driving down the main road that the dunes slowly start to appear.  The farther in you go, the dunes continue to multiply and grow larger until you come to a dead end with dunes surrounding you in every direction.

The landscape was completely mesmerizing and other-worldly, like being on the moon! Something about the place made it feel like we were living in a state of “make believe” as opposed to real life.  It felt like a giant playground for both kids and adults, with people of all ages sledding, sliding and jumping off the dunes. Close to the road, footprints cover the dunes, but if you hike a little ways out you can get away from the crowds and find fresh dunes without any tracks.  Max and I had a blast running up and sliding down the dunes – especially the ones with no footprints as we competed to claim “first tracks”.

Walking in the Clouds
Walking in the Clouds

It was an incredible place for taking photographs because of the texture of the ripples on the bright white sand.  We planned to stay after sunset for Max to shoot blue hour, but found out the park gate closes 30 minutes after sunset.  With the hike back to the car being a minimum of 30 minutes, the only feasible way to shoot sunset/blue hour is to camp overnight. White Sands does not allow any RV camping, but rather has 10 backcountry (tent) camping sites which are obtained on a first come/first serve basis.

Given the limited number of sites, I’d highly recommend being in line before the Visitor Center opens to ensure you snag one.  I got there 20 minutes before they opened and was the 4th party in line.  You can camp for one night at a time, so if you want to stay more than one night you have to be in line the following morning to reserve the next night.  This gives more people the  chance to enjoy this unique backcountry camping experience.  It also may be a safety feature too, to make sure people have enough water and food as there are no amenities out in the dunes.

Camping in White Sands

Camping in White Sands
Camping in White Sands

We had such a fabulous time camping in the dunes and Max came away with some great photos as well (most are still in his backlog)!  Some places you hear about, you know will be incredible, but this one was and we had no idea how great it would be.  It was definitely an unexpected highlight of the first few months on the road and one I can’t wait to go back to!