White Sands National Park – Las Cruces NM

I may never get rid of the sand between my toes but the other worldly White Sands National Park was worth a little discomfort. And where else in NM could we walk barefoot in February across great white dunes of fine white sand, made of billions of distinct dry tiny grains of gypsum? And behind these rounded sand formations, jagged snow dusted mountains that turned pink with the sky at sunset.

I found the park a strange and wondrous place, almost overwhelming my sense of sight and touch. I’ve never seen or felt sand like that, rare gypsum sand so unlike everyday moist granite beach sand, so white and bright, with dark shadows, so cool to the touch even in hot sun, so fine and granular like fancy salt. I loved walking barefoot through a sea of it, in the shadowy, wind-sculpted dunes. I loved the sifting it through my fingers, a cool silty sensation. If I had a stronger body, I would have loved sledding or snowboarding down it, as we saw a few kids and adults do.

We did trek the two mile backcountry trail, which was perfect and we had almost to ourselves, walking high on a ridge looking out at hundred of square miles of dunes that looked like snow drifts. Walking up and then down the dunes was surprisingly fun once I learned to enjoy the sinking sensation of my feet in the sand and often the sand was firm, a hard crust that was easy to walk on. There was no real trail but instead periodic orange markers jammed into the sand at helpful intervals (although some were blown over.)

At 5 pm we joined about 60 people for a ranger-led “sunset stroll” and glad we did. The whole place lit up, both the sky and the dunes in gradations of yellow, pink, blue, purple, as the sun set.

Next time, I’ll bring a picnic – there are tons of picnic tables, each with a sun shield, scattered across the dunes. We found slim pickings for food in honkytonk Alamogordo, the town closet to the dunes and ended up at the Hi-d-ho drive in, popular with locals. The burger was good and large. Dinner tonight in Las Cruces, 50 miles west of White Sands, was at Habeneros, a local Mexican place that friends who used to live here recommended. It fit the bill.

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