How to Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US)

White Sands National Monument (simply referred to as White Sands) is a national monument in New Mexico, U.S.A. 15 miles (25 kilometers) southwest of Alamogordo. The area rests within the Tularosa Basin and is covered with a rare form of sand made from gypsum crystals.

Enjoying White Sands may sound easy, but you have to remember that you're in the desert! There are several steps you should take before venturing into the heart of the monument.


  1. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 1
    Remember that White Sands is in the middle of a desert, so you should take the same precautions as you would if you were going to the beach.
    • Put on sunscreen, remaining conscious of the fact that the white sand also reflects solar rays upward. Don't forget the underside of the chin, the underside of your nose (even the septum and edges of the inside of your nostrils--a sunburn there is painful!), and the underside and back of the ears and earlobe. If you have sensitive eyes, bring sunglasses and a hat as well.
    • Wear an old pair of shoes, or at least bring an extra pair with you. They will definitely get loaded with sand, which is much finer than the sand on beaches. If you don't want too much sand in the car, bring another pair of shoes and put plastic or sheets on the upholstery (but you'll still need to vacuum the interior after your visit, no matter what you do). On the dunes themselves, it is fairly safe to go barefoot, but there is a small risk stepping on litter or a tarantula. The sand itself, though, is easy on bare feet, unless it's in the winter, in which case it can be very cold. It doesn't heat up too much in the summer due to its highly reflective qualities, but it might be uncomfortable for some.
  2. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 2
    Visit the information/education center to learn how White Sands was formed. You can ask the employees for an abridged explanation or you can walk through the adjoining room to get a more detailed understanding. Maps, books, and other useful items can be found here as well.
  3. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 3
    Visit the gift shop. Here, you can:
    • Purchase unique souvenirs for friends and family (e.g. prickly pear candy, stone night lights, White Sands post cards and magnets, t-shirts, authentic Native American jewelry and pottery, etc.).
    • Buy a plastic sled for downhill sledding on sand dunes. Don't forget the wax! If you buy a sled you can return it and receive a portion of your initial payment. Sometimes used ones are available, but the new, slick ones are faster.
    • Use the bathroom. These bathrooms are much nicer than the ones you'll find on the sands.
  4. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 4
    Pay at the ticket booth. Each adult pays a fee but children get in for free. Tickets are valid for 7 days. As you begin driving through, you'll see the landscape gradually change. It'll take about 15 minutes before you reach pure white sand. Be sure to get enough information brochures from the booth for everyone interested.
  5. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 5
    Check out the boardwalk, but be careful for static electricity. Running your hand along the railing will generate static electricity that can cause mild discomfort if you touch a metal object (such as the screws in the railing). This can be a lot of fun, though, if you chase someone up and down the boardwalk and zap them with your finger!
  6. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 6
    Drive around to explore the area, and make sure not to park on the road; if you do, staff will ask you to move. Look for pull-off areas.
  7. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 7
    Slide down the dunes with your sled(s). Simply wax your board (with canning or candle wax) and slide down, making sure to avoid sliding into the road! The steepest slopes are by the picnic area.
  8. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 8
    Take pictures and video footage with a camcorder. Because of the brightness level outside, you'll have to adjust your lenses accordingly. Note in the picture to the right how the white sand washes out into the white background.
  9. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 9
    Walk away from the road and into the sand for a few minutes to put some distance between you and the main road. Stand still and notice the quietness around you. Also, look down and try to spot traces of animal life, such as bird tracks or scattering ants.
  10. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 10
    Stay for the sunset stroll. White Sands looks very pretty at that time, and there's a guided walk, usually at 4pm. Consult the visitor center for when and where the walk starts. Also, the park is open until midnight on full moon nights. Take advantage of this as it gives a very different perspective.
  11. Image titled Enjoy White Sands National Monument (US) Step 11
    Stick around the area because your ticket will allow you to reenter without additional charges for up to 7 days. If you're interested in other attractions in New Mexico, the information center and gift shop areas have a large map outside that outlines various activities in the surrounding area.
    • In nearby Alamogordo, you can visit the Museum of Space History and IMAX theater or the Alameda Park Zoo. From Alamogordo, you can make a 25 minute, 4,000 foot (1,219.2 m) climb into the mountain village of Cloudcroft; seeing the landscape change from desert to sub-alpine forest within a short drive is breathtaking.
    • You can check out pistachio farms and wineries around Tularosa, and less than an hour away is the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site.


  • White Sands Missile Range, which surrounds the Monument, tests missiles and other weapons an average of once to twice per week, and closes US 70 on both sides of the Range, so a delay of about an hour is to be expected. The telephone number for the official WSMR roadblock information recording, which is updated each weekday, is (575) 678-1178. Most of the local radio stations and newspapers will also keep you posted on scheduled roadblocks.
  • Shake off thoroughly before you and any kids (especially the kids) get in the car.
  • Keep it clean. The dumpsters and garbage cans are there for your convenience. Use them.
  • Don't forget camping is available at White Sands as well. It's pretty amazing to have the whole place to yourself (usually). It's a bit of a hike, but well worth it!
  • Sand discs (round, plastic sleds) can also be used on the snow along US 82 just east of Cloudcroft.
  • For those visiting by motorcycle, be aware that not all of the road through the monument is paved. Some of it is packed and graded sand. It's not difficult to ride on, just use moderate speed and common sense.
  • There is a Border Patrol checkpoint along the way for eastbound traffic on US 70 near the Monument entrance, so carry a photo ID and appropriate documentation (e.g. green card, visa, passport) just in case, especially if you are not a U.S. Citizen.


  • Hike at your own risk. It's easy to get disoriented and lost, and water is totally unavailable out on the sands. People have died on the sands by overestimating their abilities and underestimating the Monument.
  • Thunderstorms are a bad time to be out on the sands, as you will be a relatively tall object and an attractive one to lightning.
  • Be sure of your location if you decide to strike out afoot. White Sands Missile Range borders the Monument, and it is illegal to enter the Range without a permit.
  • Watch out for vehicular collisions with oryx on the highway to and from White Sands, as well as while driving within the Monument. These African antelope, which are slightly smaller than elk, were introduced on neighboring White Sands Missile Range, and have since strayed onto the Monument and the surrounding area.
  • It's also illegal to deliberately remove sand, animals, or plants from the Monument.

Things You'll Need

  • Sunscreen
  • Extra pair of clothes and shoes
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Water
  • Towel
  • Sand disc and wax
  • Desire to have a good time!

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | United States