This unusual National Monument was first planned as a destination on our route coming out of Tempe, Arizona in January on the way to Carlsbad Caverns and onward to Florida.
Sadly, at that time, White Sands National Monument was closed during the government shutdown over Mr. Trump’s border-wall funding. It wasn’t lifted until we had moved on.
As we were heading back to Tempe on May 4th and driving past White Sands NM again, I really wanted to stop but I knew Bruce had planned a long “move day” so I stifled my enthusiasm. He delighted me by pulling into the tiny parking lot at the visitor’s center for a lunch stop.
Stamps were added to my National Park Passport book and my RV journal and we proceeded to drive into the sand. Each park managed by the National Park Service has a dated stamp that can be collected in various style books. After filling up the allotted space in the smaller passport book, I recently upgraded to the Collectors Edition that has a space for each park’s date stamp and sticker. We can use the book to help us plan travel routes and it is a fun reminder about each park.
Dunes Drive is a scenic eight-mile drive that leads from the visitor center into the heart of the rare gypsum dunefield. The first five miles of Dunes Drive are paved and the last three miles are a hard-packed gypsum sand with plenty of washboard ruts making it slow going in the RV. On roads like this, I wonder how the cabinets can remain in place!
An inter-dune boardwalk trail gave us a sighting of the Little White Whiptail Lizard that has adapted to life in the stark white sand. His gorgeous white and light blue body reminded me of the colors of the shallow gulf waters in the Florida Keys.
Lunch in the large pull-through picnic area gave us a chance to remove our shoes and walk up into the dunes to feel the difference in gypsum sand compared to beach sand. This sand stays cool to the touch instead of absorbing the sun’s heat. It feels a little like chalk or powder but doesn’t stick to the skin. Sunglasses are not optional in the blinding white dunes. Despite staying cool, the white does reflect the burning rays of the sun and Rangers tell visitors to be sure to sunscreen the underside of their noses and chins and anywhere else that the sun may reflect off the surface. The dunes are continually shifting with the wind and it can be very disorienting to find the way when hiking. The visitor center rents sleds and I’d be curious how gypsum affects the ride compared to regular sand. That question will have to hold until our next visit.
After this delightful lunch detour, we returned to the Visitor’s Center and the highway via Dunes Drive to continue our journey.
Our final night stay in Deming, New Mexico before landing back in Tempe, Arizona would mark four months since we departed in January.
It seems our routes still have a 4-season pattern to them!