After visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve last August, visiting White Sands National Monument took a top spot on our “must see” list. We really couldn’t wait to see another dune park. Since we are now staying at Western Sky’s RV Park just south of Las Cruces, NM we decided to go for a visit. It was a beautiful, sunny day in the mid 70’s.
U.S. highway 70 heads northeast from Las Cruces toward White Sands. The road is marked scenic on the map, but other than a tremendous view of the valley from the crest of San Agustin pass, it’s pretty straight and flat. Unlike the great views we had approaching the Colorado dunes, our approach to white sands gave us just a few sandy hills with scrub vegetation.
We stopped at the visitor center to find out more about this place. The sand is actually gypsum, which is what makes it white. The gypsum washes down from the mountains into this basin, which is like a bathtub without a drain. When the water evaporates in the desert, it leaves behind selenium crystals. They are broken down by the wind to form the dunes. They have a scenic loop you can drive out from the visitor center to see more of the dunes.
As we rode farther into the dune field, the shrubs and plant life diminished and the dunes got higher
. We stopped at an interdunal boardwalk so that we could read more about the plants and animals that live in the dunes.
Soon after we left this area, the asphalt pavement disappeared. I guess I missed the pavement ends notation on the map at the visitor center! The asphalt is replaced with a path of compacted sands. It looks like plowed snow throughs huge drifts. It’s a bit disconcerting when you’re on two wheels!
The dunes are much harder than those in Colorado. The gypsum feels totally different and brushes off really easily. They were fun to climb and good for a sand angel.