White Sands National Monument is not only the one place in New Mexico where you can safely sled year-round, but also the stark beauty of its rolling dunes paired with the blue New Mexico sky creates the illusion of walking underwater in the Caribbean.
280 million years ago this was a seabed of gypsum crystals and other minerals. Earth's moving tectonic plates created the mountains of the Southwestern United States. These mountains encircled the area where White Sands formed. About 12,000 years ago, as the last ice age was ending, runoff from the mountains carried gypsum down to settle in what was then Lake Otero, which then evaporated as temperatures warmed, leaving behind gypsum and selenite (the crystalline form of gypsum). Wind, rain and repeated freezing and thawing broke down the crystals into fine white gypsum sand, which is still being created by a smaller nearby lake. On the edge of the Monument, Lake Lucero fills like a puddle with rain and mountain snow run-off. There the water forms selenite crystals, then evaporates beneath the hot sun; wind and rain continue to break down and sweep the new gypsum sand over to White Sands National Monument.
Our recent visit to White Sands was on one of those rare rainy, dreary days. So rather than the normal intense blue dome, we found stormy skies and looming dark mountains around us in every direction.
That didn't stop us from hiking part of the Alkali trail (a 5-mile loop through the dunes) and sledding. Rain or shine, 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 110, bring a lot of water if you choose to walk through the dunes. Being in this sandy terrain made me thirsty. The entrance fee was five dollars and this National Park allows leashed dogs. While at the gate you receive a map of the walkable trails, it is incredibly easy to get lost in these vast dunes, so make sure you can see an orange trail marker at all times.
There are expensive sleds for sale at the Park gift shop, but we picked up some cheap saucers before arriving, which worked fine to feed our sledding fix! White Sands is a fun and alien landscape to explore for the whole family.
Did this inspire your marvelous wanderings? Let me know!