White Sands National Monument is hands-down one of the coolest places in America.
Want to go somewhere that feels utterly otherworldly? Looking for a wild sensory experience? Ready to have your mind blown? Wander out into these stark-white gypsum sand dunes in southern New Mexico, and I guarantee it will be nothing short of transformative.
250 million years ago, this whole area was covered by the Permian Sea, depositing this enormous gypsum sandbox. Over time, tectonic movement pushed this area and the surrounding mountains upwards. The gypsum layer slowly eroded and broke into tiny sand particles which ultimately collected in this basin. Why is it so white? Gypsum in its mineral form is called selenite, and though it is naturally clear, wind and erosion cause scratches to form on its surface, causing the intensely-white color.
What To Do
Drive your car on a scenic route that winds between the dunes. Hop out to sand-sled or hike around in the vast expanse. There are several trails, including one which goes down a boardwalk exploring the park's geology and flora. Another “trail" - the 5-mile Alkali Flat Trail - stretches across the dunes in a loop, winding from one neon-orange post to the next. Without the posts it's impossible to find the route - most footprints are swept away by the winds within minutes.
Make sure to bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and TONS of water - at least a couple liters per person. This is critical. People have died out there. Be smart.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to visit three times. Once in March 2015, on my first big roadtrip – finally out of Texas and stumbling upon White Sands - shocked by the stillness and solidarity that the stark-white expanse provided. Clouds whirled around the surrounding mountains, but they provided a beautiful contrast against the sands. I hiked and ran around for a couple hours and I couldn’t keep a grin off my face. Before I left, I sat and meditated in the dunes and felt more still than I had in weeks.
A year and a half later, I was back – on another roadtrip, this time with my buddy, Ben Tantanella. We wandered and watched the sun shifting down an early-autumn sky, the shadows dancing across the rippling sands. The dunes slowly caught a golden glow and the wind calmed down in reverent silence. We high-fived and laughed and it was one of the best adventures of our trip.
Nine months later, I was back again on yet another roadtrip - this one with my mom and sisters. We had just driven from Georgia – a 24-hour haul, barreling straight through the night so we could have an extra day exploring the American West and not West Texas. Needless to say, our arrival to the dunes was a welcome respite from the cramped Corolla. It was early in the day, but the summer heat was intense and mildly terrifying. We hiked for a bit in the 100+ degree tmeps, marveling and stretching our legs before piling back in and driving on into Arizona.
Something about this place is simply surreal. Perhaps it’s the stark purity of the sands – bright and shaking and enlivening; maybe it’s the wild juxtaposition of the whistling wind ripping at the peaks versus the piercing silence that pervades between the dunes; perhaps it’s due to the ethereal patterns crafted in the sand – ever-changing and casting wild shadows with the shifting sun; it could just be the complete solitude you can feel out there – looking out from a peak and seeing nothing, no one. I can’t say what will strike you the most, but I can guarantee that you’ll leave somehow changed.
For me, each venture has been different - differing lighting, differing weather, and differing companionship - but each one has stood stunningly impressive and impactful. No matter how many times I return, I still find myself in awe as if it’s my first visit - I return shocked and I leave transformed. Go here.