This is what happened to me. I first visited White Sands in 2006 with my father on the drive west that brought me to California in the first place. I have wanted to return ever since. To walk barefoot on these cotton dunes, and to take the time of day there to simply breath. To be. And also, as a naturalist, to hopefully observe some it’s unique and cryptic desert fauna. But even the best laid plans can falter.Boca and I had intended to camp at White Sands National Monument, and actually sleep on the dunes themselves beneath a starry desert sky. The night prior we explored a prehistoric forest where dinosaurs once roamed, the rocky remains of the Petrified Forest National Park strewn haphazardly across the Painted Desert.After overnighting in a small town called Eagar in Arizona’s White Mountains, we decided to drive south through Gila National Forest. And this was our mistake. The roads were narrow, winding, and poorly marked. We took a wrong turn and ended up on a half day detour, lost amongst the high altitude pine lands of Apache National Forest.We didn’t make it to White Sands until just before sunset. We were refused a camping permit. We were too late. But we were also right on time. In time for what nature had intended all along. A spectacular light show for our benefit. Alone and desperately tiny on the mammoth dunescape, we witnessed our solar system’s fiery center dip beneath jagged dry hills, casting a Santa Fe water color mural across the sky and dunes.We hope you enjoy reading about what we saw. But what we felt can only be experienced firsthand.
Back into the valley and about 20 miles west of Alamogordo is White Sands National Monument. The white, sparkly gypsum dunes cover 275 square miles, but the National Monument has just one loop road and a few walking trails, which are unnecessary because you can pull over anywhere and climb the dunes. The kids love to roll and sled down. If there are clouds in the sky, try to stay out there for sunset because it will be gorgeous.
This is one of the most remarkable geophysical phenomena I've ever laid eyes on, in any country of the world. The sand is soft, cool, whiter than snow and rolls on as far as the eye can see. Corralled in a ring of ragged desert mountains, there is something distinctly spiritual about watching the sunset over the San Andres Mountains, the last rays of which cast a pink hue to the silky rolling dunes spread out in all directions.