Last week we decided to get out of the rain and snow of the Pacific Northwest and head down to El Paso for a long weekend. We ended up visiting four national parks/monuments in the area, one of which was White Sands National Monument.
This was an absolutely stunning place. The white gypsum sand is like no other. It is a fine powder, almost like flour. That, paired with the blue sky, made for a luxurious photo.
There is only one road in the park, take it to nearly the end where you will see signage to the Alkali Flat Trail. There was ample parking, but you will see people sledding on the sand dunes, so be cautious.
The trail is an out-and-back/semi-loop trail through the sand. That means there was no real “trail”. There are orange trail markers and it is easy to get lost if you wander too far away from the markers.
Unfortunately, we were very ill-prepared for the hike and only completed about a half of a mile. Despite being only 55 degrees we would have needed much more than the one liter of water we brought. They recommend at least two liters per person. The sand is very exhausting to hike in, so think of it as like doing double the mileage.
The day we hiked, it was a clear and sunny day and the trail was dry. The gypsum sand is more like a powder than sand, so if you plan to hike with shoes or boots some Dirty Girl or other running gaiters would be advisable.
Again, we were ill-prepared for this hike. We had left some of our gear at home, such as poles and water bladder, that would have been useful. We only had boots, backpack, and a liter of water for both of us.
I would recommend hiking poles, at least two liters of water per person, and some light gaiters to keep the sand out of footwear. Some heavy-duty sunscreen is also a necessity, even for dark skinned people because the sand reflects sunlight so you get double exposure.
We made it short and sweet! Haha! We made it to about trail marker #5 or so and turned around for a total of 0.75 miles.
Every trail marker offered a different view of the dunes and the further out we went, the less people we saw, which also meant less footprints in the sand and untainted photos.
This would have been a real quad-buster if we had completed the whole five miles and it probably would have felt more like ten miles. Each trail marker gave a completely different, breathtaking view and photo opportunities. However, it is not a hike to take lightly despite the mileage. It is imperative to be properly prepared and to follow the trail markers to a T.