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White Sands.
January or July? It's impossible to tell from photos at White Sands.

White Sands: Alien Dunescape

Field review by the editors.

Alamogordo, New Mexico

Snapshots taken at White Sands make it look like a winter wonderland, but the "snow" is actually crystals of white gypsum. They never melt, and the gypsum also doesn't get hot, like sand. Yet air temperatures on the towering dunes can climb to over 100 degrees on sunny summer afternoons. Tourists who wander off the marked trails, or who don't bring enough water, have died of sunstroke and dehydration. On bright days, without eye protection, you can go snow blind.

Unlike most places of natural wonder run by the National Park Service, White Sands encourages goofy interaction with its environment. At the Visitor Center, tourists can "buy" snow saucers for dune sledding -- an odd thrill in July -- and then sell them back afterward. The sweeping, otherworldly vistas are shutterbug's dream for science and sci-fi nerds. "Look at me! I am scanning the horizon for Imperial storm troopers on the ice planet Hoth!"

White Sands.

The U.S. government uses most of White Sands' 275 square miles -- the largest gypsum dune field on Earth -- as a missile testing range, leaving only a small section for tourists. This is actually a good thing, as it makes the park a quick and easy destination. There's one way in, one way out, the distances you have to travel are relatively short, and the dunes are conveniently off of the parking lots next to the one main road.

In other words, you can be walking on an alien moonscape at noon, hop in your car, and 30 minutes later be in the city of Alamogordo eating a green chili cheeseburger.

White Sands is occasionally closed during rocket launches, and there are many signs in the park warning visitors not to pick up anything metallic. It might explode.

White Sands: Alien Dunescape

White Sands National Park

19955 US-70, Alamogordo, NM
White Sands National Park. From Alamogordo drive west on US Hwy 70 for 13.5 miles. Entrance on right. The park is sometimes closed during missile tests, so call ahead. Bring a hat and plenty of bottled water.
Summer daily 7am - 8pm; earlier closings off-season. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
$25 per vehicle, $20 per motorcycle
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

VW SpiderVW Spider, Alamogordo, NM - 15 mi.
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Air Duct ManAir Duct Man, Alamogordo, NM - 15 mi.
In the region:
Muffler Man: Soda Jerk, Hatch, NM - 58 mi.

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