This spring, we wandered out of our usual Southeastern range and headed west!
One of our stops was at White Sands National Park, where we backpacked into the dunes for an overnight stay.
We were there in early May, the sand was cool underfoot and we hiked the whole way barefoot. The sand is bright white gypsum and not coral/sandstone/quartz/shell particle sand we southerners are used to seeing along creeks and down at the beach.
To reserve a site, driving to the park is required, they will not take phone calls. Park at the visitor center and go in and ask the person at the info desk if there are sites available for the night. The park is sometimes closed overnight due to testing at the range next door. There are 10 backcountry sites along a 2 mile loop, they are all pretty similar, though 6 and 7 are closer together than any other sites.
Once a site is chosen, they will get some info for their logbook and give you a map and a sheet to hand the person at the payment booth. There’s no payment until entering the park itself. Check their website for the most updated camping pricing, it was $3 each for us in May 2016. Entry fee was $5 per person.
Sledding is a huge attraction, they sell sleds at the gift shop for just under $20 each. The Wal-Mart in town 8 miles away has the same sleds for around $6. Buy wax at the gift shop, it really does help, and one cube will be enough even for 2-3 sleds. Or, plan ahead and bring a small chunk of canning wax.
There is a parking lot just for the backpacking loop and after sunset a ranger comes by to check that everyone is registered and accounted for. The trails in the dunes are marked only by poles and wind can obscure vision and footprints. Getting lost is pretty easy, there are no landmarks at all. People have died there. If hiking during the day, go overboard with water, with zero shade, I imagine the hotter months are pure misery! No humidity at all, of course, so it’s even easier to dry out. In early May, it was around 70 in the day and mid 40’s at night.
We hiked back out the next morning and played on the sleds a while longer. The sliding sand and surprisingly hard climbs combined to make our calves SORE!
There are ranger programs, a really nice visitor center and several more miles of trails at the park, all are worth visiting, even for a day trip. But camping in the dunes is a special treat, one I recommend.
The photo below is from an overlook on the way up to Cloudcroft and the dunes at White Sands can be seen in the distance. It’s a vast area!