White Sands National Monument is just a 1.25 hour drive from Ruidoso, New Mexico. From the first moment I read about it I knew it was a place I had to visit. We set off on our road trip through the austerely beautiful New Mexican landscape to experience one of the most beautiful, extraordinary, and unusual places I have ever seen.
We arrived in time for the daily 11am “Tent Talk” on the dune boardwalk led by a monument volunteer. Walking toward the tent it looked and felt as if we were approaching the sea, but in fact we were in the Sonoran Desert in what is 275 square miles of landscape unlike any other on earth…geologically speaking. We learned so many fun, interesting, and geeky facts…there are 220 species of birds and 53 species of mammals most of whom are nocturnal and have adapted their color to “white” to fit in with the gypsum sand as an act of survival in this extremely harsh environment. The dunes are “on the move” due to the constant prevailing wind and move around 12-18 feet a year. You can read more about the history of the monument here: http://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm.
Our visit was a bit tainted by the deaths just last week of two French tourists who were visiting the monument with their 9 year old son. It seems they went for a hike on the Alkali Flats Trail with limited provisions, may have lost their way, and succumbed to heat and dehydration. Our hearts broke when we heard this news, thinking about this family, like any other on their summer vacation, unfortunately with a very tragic ending. Luckily their son survived thanks to their efforts to hydrate him more than themselves.
We literally hiked in their footsteps which made for a more somber visit than we might have had otherwise. After we wrote a makeshift memorial message in the “Trail Log” we offered a blessing for their souls and for the life of the 9 year old they left behind. We thought of them on every step of our hike and it inspired us to appreciate even more the beauty of the location and to “be present” on our journey.
If you do visit, remember not to underestimate the desert … bring a minimum of 1 gallon of water per person for the hike, wear sunscreen, a large brimmed hat and protective clothing.
You know how song lyrics can just pop into your head and stay there? The entire time I was on the dunes the lyrics to the Kansas classic Dust in the Wind were playing over and over in my head…’I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment’s gone. All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity. Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind”. I felt exactly like the tiny speck that I am in this universe. It was humbling.
Besides hiking, you can rent sleds to ride the dunes, take a sunset tour , a full moon tour and in winter there are tours of Lake Lucero which is on the premises and plays a critical role in the formation and ecosystem of the monument. This is such an awesome place! Yes the desert is harsh and unforgiving, but it is simultaneously a place of spirituality, beauty and extreme serenity. It is so worth the trip and should not be missed should you find yourself out here in the American Southwest. Happy trails. xo