Our last fun stop (we spent a night in Phoenix right before arriving in LA, but just so that we wouldn’t have an insane driving day) was in a place that neither of us had ever heard of before beginning this trip. As you can probably tell by reading these posts, we rushed the Southern route of the country way more than we did the beginning, partly because we needed to get back to LA for various reasons, but also we figured anything close to LA (Joshua Tree, Bryce, Arches) is easy enough to do on a weekend trip from LA where we will most likely end up once the travel bug is out of our systems. That being said, we changed our itinerary for this route a handful of times, and we were kind of searching for something unique to do in between Carlsbad Cavern and LA. The 1000 Places to See Before You Die (US and Canada edition) came through once again (thanks again Janice and Gareth for the thoughtful gift!) and I discovered White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
We drove in from Guadalupe and stayed at the Days Inn in Alamogordo. This felt like one of the shadier hotels we visited, as the check-in area had a window with one of those glass/plastic barriers where people just slide the money in through the opening on the bottom. Not to mention the guys hanging outside our door with drinks in paper bags. However, the price was right, and the food options around were plentiful, albeit mostly fast food (and your pick of fast food, pretty much everything save In N Out). We got some Burger King, and it was delicious. I so rarely eat it that I forget, but I’ll admit it, a Whopper Jr. makes for a tasty meal!
Be aware if you visit White Sands that the road leading in (I believe Highway 70) is closed frequently as it lies in the middle of a government missile testing area. You have to call or check the website in advance to find out if it’s going to be open. Also be aware that you should not pick up hitchhikers, just in case you miss the signs that advise against it due to the detention facilities in the area.
The next morning we headed over to the dunes (the “monument” itself opens at 8am, though the visitor center that we recommend visiting doesn’t open until 9am). They had a nice orientation video that we enjoyed, and through which we learned (among other crazy facts) that we were about to enter the largest gypsum dunes in the world. They’re formed because the rain and snowmelt from the mountains rich in gypsum collect in the basin and leave gypsum crystals as the water evaporates. The wind scatters and breaks the crystals down until it forms a fine white sand.
We also stopped at the visitor center and bought a sled and some wax to make it go super fast :). The annual park pass bought us entry (normally $3 a person, such a steal… I think more people should know about this place!). Entering this place with the top down felt pretty spectacular. It looks like you’re in a winter wonderland, as you start going to a road that exists solely because they use a snowplow to clear out a path.
The scenery is just other-wordly beautiful here. The sand dunes have that beautiful ripple effect from the wind, and it’s a perfect snow-white in color. There are big mountains backing the landscape. I was literally jumping for joy with excitement. The sledding was super fun, though Alan for some reason couldn’t get going very fast. He definitely got into the fun, jumping off the hills into the soft soft sand at the top. It’s much more difficult to ascent, as it fills your tracks as fast as quicksand. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking on how awesome this place is.
We even saw a guy with a camel… and a film crew. What? I think he was trying to get people to find Christ, so we avoided him.
People always ask “what’s been the best part? the highlight?” And it was so hard to answer for most of the trip. We saw a lot of beautiful places, and had tons of fun, but we couldn’t pick one thing as a highlight. Then we went here. And this question is much easier for me to answer now. I thought this place was the bees knees. It was totally unexpected, practically unplanned, massively little-kid type fun (just look at us jumping at sledding), stunningly beautiful, and very different than other places. So, this was the highlight of the trip for me.
We hit our second border patrol stop on our way out of New Mexico. We also passed through a number of areas that have signs and flashing lights warning of dust storms and low or zero visibility. Scary. Also, I’m pretty sure in New Mexico the signs advised to not stop in traffic lines during a dust storm blackout, though in Arizona I could swear it said to come to a complete stop in case of blackout. What are we supposed to do!? Anyway, I’m just glad we didn’t experience one of those storms. I’ve driven through some rain and snowstorms with no visibility and that is scary ish.
Oh, but most exciting of all – there was a DUNKS in New Mexico! Are they coming to Cali at long last to answer my prayers and dreams!?! Say it’s so, Dunks. Tell me it’s for real!