White Sands National Monument is 275 square miles (176,000 acres) of white sand dunes in New Mexico. It’s the largest deposit of white gypsum in the world.
Gypsum is rarely found in sand form because it is water-soluble. Normally rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it out to sea. But the White Sands monument is enclosed in a deep bowl with no water outlets, thus rainwater evaporates and leaves gypsum in crystalline form on the surface.
The white dunes rise 3-5 stories above the surrounding plain.
We started along a 1-mile nature trail with informative signs along the way.
Some of the sand formed into hard mounds that can be carved into shapes like the cross above.
The sand looked eerily like snow, especially where the roads were literally plowed to keep them clear from blowing and drifting sand. Yet the 70-degree weather indicated otherwise.
With such an immense landscape to explore, it was very quiet and isolated among the dunes. We hiked off-trail for nearly four hours and didn’t encounter any other people until we returned to our car.
The dogs had a wonderful time running on the dunes. We’ve never seen Darby look so happy (she has a very noticeable smile for a dog). She would gallop up the dunes and chase Shadow around until they collapsed from exhaustion. The sand was soft on her paws and surprisingly cool to the touch.
Hiking White Sands is one of the items on my “Bucket List” that I got to check off on this trip (spending summer in Alaska is next). There is something immensely satisfying about hiking for miles off-trail in a remote wilderness that’s completely silent and isolated. And hiking on massive white dunes that stretched as far as the eye could see was an otherworldly experience. This was one of our best hikes ever, and even Theresa was surprised at what an amazing place this is.