I walked in at the White Sands National Monument‘s visitor center with many questions and high expectations about hiking the dunes. But, just how white is the White Sands when everything else around has a terracotta color? Just to make sure, I implied that I knew that camping is not available at the monument in a inquiring manner. It’s one of those comments that I make when deep inside I’m hopeful that I’m wrong. Not this time! All I had read about the monument was right. No camping! Hiking! Oh, yes!
I knew that this was a one day visit and I wanted to hike the longest trail in the park. The park ranger I spoke with couldn’t have been friendlier and more helpful. Perhaps, however, my appearance suggested that I should or could not go hiking the longest trail. She first tried to tell me that there are nice, short trails. But after I told her about my trip and my goals she agreed that the longest trail would be more enjoyable and suitable to my purposes. “There will be less people in that hiking trail and the dunes are much higher” – she noted.
As I drove the two miles to the trailhead, I overshot it because I was looking for the promised quieter area with not many people and dogs around. Enchanted by the surroundings I just kept on driving until I realized that I had arrived at the end of the road. I turned around, this time paying attention to the hiking trails signage along the way.
Frankly, I was discouraged when I found the location because I could barely find a spot to park the car. A larger crowd than I expected covered the sand surrounding the first 100 yards from the trailhead. It looked like a playground where dogs were having a great time. But, as it is the case with most hiking trails, after half a mile into the hike the number of hikers drop drastically.
I was also a little intrigued when she told me that the dunes would be much higher on this trail, reaching 60 or 70 feet high. Lots of ups and downs, but the name of the trail was Alkali Flat Trail. Just to be sure, know that the only thing flat in this trail is the word “flat” on its name. Be prepared for a great hiking!
As I hiked the first quarter of a mile and went up and down a few dunes, suddenly I was all by myself! I almost broke down in tears overwhelmed by the beauty around. I had not felt that way in a long, long time. Not at least while hiking. What I like about hiking dunes, especially when they are white dunes, is that you can look at or take several pictures of the same frame and they will always look different. Shades and shadows continuously changing the landscape around can be mesmerizing. Depending on how the clouds cover the sun, and the density and speed of the clouds, the scenery scintillates and flashes before your eyes creating a spectacular light show. No, it’s not boring! Someone asked me once if I didn’t get bored by “walking on sand” for miles and miles. No, I do not get bored!
There was a chance of rain for that afternoon. I made sure I had the appropriate hiking gear which included a water proof hiking jacket. I particularly like having my hiking poles with me at all time, and this is a trail that requires hiking poles if you set yourself up to hike the five miles loop.
Except for a few moments during which the clouds got a little thicker and darker, the weather was excellent and the rain never came. For at least four and a half miles I hiked in complete solitude, only seeing a few people when I was close to finishing the five miles loop.
The White Sands National Monument offers other activities which include guided full moon walk, among other events. If you plan a visit I would recommend checking their website for scheduled events. Most likely I will plan a return trip to coincide with a full moon cycle. Many years ago I did a similar hike in the company of a small group guided by a ranger at midnight in a rain forest at the Iguazu Falls in Argentina and it was a spectacular experience. I imagine that the White Sands is equally, Although in a completely different environment and ecosystem, I imagine that the White Sands is an extraordinary location for hiking under a full moon light.