Taking a trip to White Sands, the largest gypsum desert in the world - bright white powder set against azure blues - is absolutely surreal. It's like nothing in America - like something you’d find in a far away planet in Star Wars maybe, where fairy queens who never grow old frolic in pastel gowns.
Ending the first week of our out west road trip Ben and I departed from Big Bend National Park, next stop White Sands.
We started this journey in Las Cruces, less than an hour from White Sands National Monument, and a charmingly serene town directly west of the Dona Ana Mountain range. We pulled in late to the nature retreat Airbnb of Las Cruces locals, Yanick & Tim. Sitting on the edge of the desert, with a picture window facing directly toward the Organ mountains, the retreat is a converted shipping container sitting on a beautiful 5 acres of land full of jackrabbits and cotton tails and all sorts of desert creatures.
Waking up with the sunrise the next morning we started our trek into White Sands.
Driving in to 275 square miles of sand amidst yucca and cholla cactus plants there’s a sign: “No Water Available Beyond This Point.".
This is a destination to come prepared for. Pack a compass: it’s easy to get turned around quickly once you’ve hiked out even a little ways into the dunes. Keep sunscreen and several gallons of water in the car, the sun is powerful, the only shade - spaceship like picnic shelters midway through the park. Bring a sled or rent one at the gift shop. The dunes are so soft you can tumble all the way down the highest dunes and feel as if you’re rolling through a cloud.
Three interesting tidbits about White Sands:
1. This is the Tulsarosa Basin - 30,000 years ago a lake larger than the great lakes Erie and Ontario combined was in this exact spot. Mammoth, giant ancient camels and sabertooth tiger fossilized tracks have been found dating back to that time.
2. The White Sands are an active dunefield, moving from west to east as much as 30 feet every year, the winds, leaving wave like patterns in the sand.
3. Its an active missile testing area, sometimes the park is closed for tests and also is the location where the government detonated the world's first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945.
This is a place so vast the only sounds you’ll hear, if any, is child like laughter way out in the distance from the other visitors tumbling down the dunes on their sleds. On our travels we saw maybe 10 other people - a few groups of travelers like us and a school bus driving way out in the distance - the vision was otherworldly. As we hiked further into the dunes the sounds floated away into nothingness. The silence was calming and mystical, as if we walked into a magic spell.
Time your trip to arrive into White Sands on the night of the full moon. From May to October the park rangers lead a 2 mile hike under to meet the glow of the moon, and the elusive creatures making the dunes their home. Registration for the hike is limited and opens 2 weeks in advance and for us, we called too late and we missed it. It was Ben's birthday so after a day of sledding and dancing in the dunes we headed back to Las Cruces to take in the nocturnal sky back at the retreat.
With a feeling of rejuvenation and new found wonder we depart from Las Cruces the next morning venturing west to our next destination.
Thanks for following along you guys.
all photos shot in 35 mm film by my love Ben
p.s. want to see how the sledding works - it goes just about like this. one of the best days of our entire 3 weeks on the road.