One of the reasons we planned a couple of nights in Las Cruses New Mexico was because we wanted to take advantage of the proximity of White Sands National Monument. It's about a 50 mile drive that takes over an hour. Because you pass through the White Sands Missile Range which covers 3200 square miles over 5 counties, there are times when the road is closed down due to rocket testing. Locals are used to this but we, luckily, did not experience it. We weren't sure what the weather was going to do but you take what you get when you travel.
The Visitor's Center is a typical Southwest style that I really like. They have plenty of parking and even have lane parking for RVs which is nice if you have your rig with you. Our rigs were back at the RV park.
It is always good to read all the information available at the park before you begin sightseeing. Sometimes there are lots of surprises. I should mention that the park is located at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert in a mountain-ringed valley knows as the Tularosa Basin. The desert sand is your typical beige color until you get to the park where the sand is glistening white gypsum which covers 275 square miles and has created the largest gypsum dune field in the world.
There are special ranger led events at various times and days of the year and you may need reservations for them so be sure to check the White Sands National Monument website before you visit. We just wanted to see this unique area and there is a drive which provides a good view of the northeast section of the park.
Once you get inside the Visitor's Center, there is lots more information. 275 million years ago, west Texas, southern New Mexico, and southern Arizona were covered by a shallow sea. Over millions of years, the sea rose and fell repeatedly leaving gypsum deposits behind as the water evaporated. The Tularosa Basin began forming 30 million years ago as the Earth's crust broke into multiple low-lying areas surrounded by mountains. Only 2 to 3 million years ago, the ancient Rio Grande River began flowing through a pass and depositing sand across the lower Tularosa Basin. Things began drying out.
Lake Lucero is located in the southwest section of the park far from any roads so you won't be seeing that. Rain and snow in the mountains dissolve gypsum from the rocks and carry it into the Tularosa Basin. Normally, the dissolved gypsum would flow through rivers to the sea but there are no rivers in the basin so it is trapped. Flat beds of selenite crystals form. Freezing, thawing, wetting, and drying eventually break down the crystals into sand-size particles light enough to be moved by the wind.
Animals and birds adapt to their surroundings to survive so they are much lighter colored in this area.
Plants also adapt to survive as the dunes move through. Some develop much longer roots while some grow taller rapidly. Once the sand moves on, the plants often collapse.
There is also a short movie you should take advantage of in the Visitor's Center.
One thing you should know is that the first four miles of the road are considered a Safety Zone. Unfortunately, there is no explanation as to why this is so and it certainly doesn't equate to the other Safety Corridors in New Mexico. It is not due to the missile testing as the park closes if that is an issue. The lack of information leaves you wondering if you will actually be able to get any pictures or take in the uniqueness of the area. The park could really do a better job with this by providing explanations and the knowledge that there will be many photo opportunities down the road than just having a ranger swoop down on motorists leaving them with the feeling they are dangerous criminals. We experienced it and saw it happen repeatedly while we were driving this section of the road. Don't slow down even the slightest bit.
The plants began to decrease exposing more of the pristine sand.
Sand has to be plowed off the road occasionally.
There is a boardwalk area where you can park and walk out over the sand.
There are signs with information about things you might see.
There are footprints all over in the sand around the boardwalk where people should obviously not be walking. Some ranger patrolling in this area would make a lot more sense. There are plenty of areas ahead where you are encouraged to get out and experience the sand. Again, more information on this fact would be helpful and beneficial to the park and the visitors.
After we left the boardwalk area, we saw sand that looked like it was at the bottom of a shallow lake but it is the wind that creates these waves.
Further along the road, playing in the dunes is encouraged. The Visitor's Center actually sells what we used to call "flying saucers" up north. They work as well in the sand as they do on snowhills. There are lots of picnic tables out here as well with suncovers/windblocks to make your picnic more enjoyable. There are also porta-potties and parking lots to make life easier. All in all, we enjoyed this very unique park.