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Run, don't walk to White Sands National Park. This dune field is the largest of its kind in the world, and visiting it is an other-worldly experience. Here's everything you need to know if you plan on visiting White Sands National Park.
There are national parks, and then there's White Sands National Park. And the name doesn't lie: the sand is unusually white. It's made of gypsum (which has that bright pearly color) and this park is actually the largest gypsum dunefield in the world.
In this park you'll find about 275 miles of glistening dunes and scrubby plants. Here's what you need to know if you plan on visiting.
First and foremost, you should know that sledding down the dunes is totally a thing. You can bring your own sled or sandboard, or buy a new or used one from the Visitor's Center at the entrance. When I went they were out of the used boards, so we had to shell out for the new ones ($20 USD)
I'll say this over and over until everyone hears me: you absolutely have to make it for sunset. Sure, the daytime is nice. And I'm sure sunrise is real sweet too. But plan your trip about making it for sunset. The sun setting over the dunes is something you simply can't miss.
There are hiking and walking trails, ranger-led educational activities, and an area for backcountry camping. But I highly recommend doing what we did: pack some dinner and a blanket, and have a picnic on the dunes. There are also covered picnic tables.
This park has basically no coverage, so make sure you're protected from the sun. Hats and sunscreen are a must, and bring along plenty of water.
You know when your feet feel like they're on fire from walking on a hot sandy beach? That isn't the case here, because as I learned, gypsum actually doesn't get hot. So it stays cool to walk on, even in the blazing sun.
You might see "national park" and "national monument" in different places, and that's because both are true. White Sands was a national monument until 2019, when it was switched to a national park. A national park covers more ground, when a national monument is typically used for a singular feature.
What's that? A missile testing range? Nothing to see here. Part of White Sands (outside of the national park grounds) is used as a US military testing range. Some days when they're running tests certain roads will be closed.