Some tourists visit White Sands National Monument expecting to find a monument. Assuming they’ll see a statue or obelisk with a bronze commemorative plaque, they find instead a vast sea of blindingly white sand stretching out across the New Mexico desert.
Of all the national parks I’ve visited across America, White Sands has always remained at the top of my list of favorites. There are no ancient trees. No waterfalls. And yet – there is something special about this park, something starkly beautiful. Located in the high desert of southern New Mexico, the park’s 143,000 acres of white gypsum sand dunes stretch into the distance as far as the eye can see. Visible from space, this vast dune field offers few nutrients and a harsh climate, yet about 60 species of plants manage to grow in this landscape despite the extreme conditions. 46 species of mammals and 32 species of reptiles and amphibians have been recorded within the park.
There is no campground, but if you’re feeling adventurous you can make use of one of the ten backcountry campsites which are only a moderate distance from the parking area. While temperatures soar into the triple digits during the summer days, the air cools quickly in the high desert at night, often dropping as much as 30 degrees, making for an easy sleep under a canopy of stars.