I set out for my first solo parks trip in the fall of 2021 to White Sands National Park. This national park is located in New Mexico in the Tularosa Basin, completely surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range. White Sands was upgraded from a National Monument to a National Park in December 2019.
I arrived to the park around 5 pm. I had just missed the visitors center hours, but arrived in time to explore a bit before meeting up for the ranger-led sunset hike. I drove the 8-mile (one way) dunes drive, stopping at pull-offs along the way. I walked the Dune Life Nature Trail, taking in the beauty and stopping every few steps to take pictures.
Eventually I made my way to the trailhead where the ranger-led sunset walk would be. The first thing the ranger said to me when I arrived was, “Shoes are optional for this hike, you can go barefoot if you want.” An immediate smile came across my face– no shoes AND a sunset hike?? I was definitely in the right place.
Throughout the hike I learned a lot about this new national park. I learned it inhabits the world’s most active sand dunes—because the winds are always changing, the dunes are actively moving from one area to another. The whole area used to actually be a lake, a very long time ago. These sand dunes are also home to the world’s largest region of gypsum. What’s cool about gypsum is it doesn’t absorb heat from the sun, so even when its hot outside, the dunes are comfortable to walk on, hence why we were able to walk around barefoot.
Another cool fact I learned about this park was that giant sloth tracks were found in 2018, with human tracks in them. One of the rangers said that was part of what helped transition White Sand Dunes from a National Monument to a National Park. White Sands National Park encompasses the globe’s largest collection of ice-age fossilized footprints.
All in all, this was the perfect park to travel to for my first solo trip. Its small, but packed with history and provides some of the most amazing sunset views. My time was relatively short, but oh so sweet!