This New Mexico park is home to more than just a hike, here’s where you can sled through the dunes
This breathtaking view may look like mountains of snow, but it’s actually pure gypsum – which just happens to be perfect for sledding.
When you think of a national park, what is the first thing that comes to mind? More often than not, it’s the idea of hiking trails, nature walks, and maybe even kayaking or camping. Usually the first thing that comes to mind is not sledding – especially not when it is practiced on sand rather than snow.
At White Sands National Park, this is exactly what visitors can expect. Well, that and a stunning landscape that has been seen in a plethora of photo ops. The white sands of these dunes are breathtaking and truly mesmerizing, set against a remote New Mexico backdrop that feels like you are on another planet. Here’s how to enjoy all the beauty that these magnificent sands offer while having a little fun.
Why is the sand in White Sands National Park so pure?
You might wonder why the sand in White Sands National Park is so different from any other beach in the world. For starters, there is no ocean because New Mexico is completely landlocked. There are also no viable water sources nearby that would create enough waves to knock down rocks at this point of pebble-like consistency, so the sand, in itself, is somewhat sort of a mystery. However, the mystery suddenly takes on more meaning when visitors realize that what they are passing through is not actually sand in the true definition of the word – it is pure gypsum.
The scientific term for this “sand” is hydrated calcium sulfate. Known as gypsum, it is what is left after the complete evaporation of an “ephemeral” lake with an extraordinarily high mineral content, leaving behind a collection of pulverized minerals, i.e. gypsum. Therefore, what visitors experience upon entering the park is a landscape filled with pure white dunes that were left there after the water evaporated. What’s even more interesting is that since there is no more water to hold these gypsum piles in place, they tend to move around. This means that the dune fields have the potential to move up to 30 feet in the northeast direction each year, making it a kind of scavenger hunt for those who visit the park in search of these magnificent piles. sand.
Go to the park and find the dunes
Getting to White Sands National Park is pretty easy. It is located near the Chihuahuan Desert, not far from a military missile testing facility. The directions to get to the park are as follows:
- Coming from Carlsbad Caverns, you can drive straight through the Sacramento Mountains on US 82 before reaching the park.
- The Visitor Center is located on US Highway 70 in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
- From there, the dunes are in the western part of the park – there will be signs to guide hikers, and the visitor center is a wealth of information.
Sledding through the dunes and other activities at White Sands National Park
One of the biggest attractions when it comes to finding these dunes is the potential for dune sledding, AKA sand sledding. While it can be done in several locations around the world, the fine, powdery gypsum sand allows visitors to glide incredibly easily over its already slippery hills. While it may look like snow, visitors should be aware that sledding in the dunes is not as easy as sledding on tightly packed powder such as on ski slopes.
- Visitors can choose to walk barefoot, but hiking shoes are usually the best choice – they provide some traction and if they get to ankle high, they will prevent some of the sand from making their way into the shoes.
- A regular sled is all you need to sled in the dunes, and plastic sleds work best because of their smooth exterior. However, anything – including a metal garbage can lid or even a smooth wooden board – would work just as well.
- Be respectful of the wildlife, as many desert creatures have made their home in the park as well.
- Carry-in and carry-out – the dunes are remote and there aren’t many places to dump the garbage.
Flora and fauna in the park
Hiking in White Sands National Park is a great experience and one that can also be filled with many encounters with local wildlife. Visitors can see species unique to the landscape such as the dwarf fox, African oryx, and bleached earless lizards.
The hike through the park is relatively easy, except for the work required to climb and cross some dunes, but there are also many paths between them. Equally fascinating is the flora of the park, as much of it has adapted to the dry desert lifestyle.
Next: What to expect at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a project that changed the world
How to Plan the Perfect Vacation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
About the Author