When we decided to visit the White Sands National Park, I was less than excited. I don’t know why. Fortunately, my attitude changed for the better when we pulled into the parking lot by the visitor’s center.
I instantly found the white sand landscapes intriguing.
The visitor’s center was not open when we arrived, but we decided to walk to the building to find a map. Quickly, we noticed red plastic saucers laying around the ground and on benches. We knew the discs were for sledding down the sand dunes but didn’t know if we should snag a couple for ourselves or leave them.
Thankfully, someone had left a note on a stack saying, “Have fun!”
This was the confirmation we needed to help ourselves to two of them. We jumped in our van Alice with two saucers in hand and headed to the sand.
What Should We Do First?
Often when we enter a national park, we drive the entire length of the grounds with a map in hand. It is a good way to quickly access an area. Since we were only in the park for one day, we needed to identify places in the park that interested us the most.
The morning temperature was only a few degrees above freezing. Sledding the dunes or bike riding wasn’t in the cards for us at that temperature. The only logical thing to do was hike!
Looking at the map for hiking trails, we settled on a 5-mile route called the Alkali Flat Trail. As we would later learn, the trail was anything but flat despite its name.
Climbing up the first sand dune was difficult. Our legs and feet had to learn how to climb through the soft surface and push our bodies to the top. Our breathing and heart rates elevated.
As the miles passed, Gail and I started racing to each top. It was friendly competition that made us laugh and curse. We typically walked in areas of the trail that were flat and ran up the steep pitches. As it turned out we were pretty well matched as we traded victories hill after hill.
After a while, we began to run down the other side of the dunes too. This was much more fun.
After the Hike
Every direction we looked had the illusion of winter. The color of the white sand against the vivid clear blue sky tricked the eye. Visualizing snow in place of the sand under our feet was easy to do. Yet, everyone around us was wearing shorts and tee shirts.
Over the course of a few hours the temperatures climbed from 37 degrees in the morning to a warm 82 degrees in the afternoon.
As the day progressed, families arrived by the carload. They selected areas in the park to eat, relax and to sled the dunes. It was like a beach scene without the water.
After our hike, Gail and I ate lunch watching all the activities around us. We each tried to sled the dunes on the saucers we had found earlier. Gail mastered sliding through the sand while I did not. My weight was just too much for the saucers built for kids.
When it was my turn, I would describe my sledding activity as “plowing” the sand. It wasn’t pretty.
We spent about seven hours in the park and certainly enjoyed our time there. After a hike, lunch, “plowing” and a short bike ride around we felt happy we had set aside a whole day at White Sands National Park.
Without a doubt, we will return and do it all over again whenever we travel through this part of New Mexico.
See other recent Van Life By Design published stories below:
- Life Flows Like a Stream
- Black Elk Peak is the Best Hike in Custer State Park
- The Remarkable Scramble to Little Devil’s Tower
- A Tranquil Morning on the Custer State Park Cathedral Trail
- The Subway off Boyton Canyon Trail is a Hidden Bonus