Located near Alamogordo, NM, White Sands National Monument is the world’s largest gypsum sand dune field. Here are ten things to take with you when you visit this beautiful, unique place.
The White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, New Mexico is the world’s largest gypsum sand dune field and one of the world’s natural wonders. With 275 square miles of white sand dunes, it’s a beautiful, unique place to visit. But with the unique environment come additional precautions for a safe visit.
I paid full price for my visit to the White Sands National Monument and always share my honest opinions.
Here are 10 things to take with you when you visit White Sands National Monument:
1. Weather Forecast
Know the hour-by-hour weather forecast for the duration of your visit, including when the sun will set. It is best to explore White Sands either earlier or later in the day, avoiding the hottest midday temperatures and strongest UV rays. If you are exploring the national monument in the later part of the day, be sure you have adequate time to complete your hike before the sun sets. Also, be aware that temperatures in the desert drop drastically after sunset, anywhere from 20 to 30F, so bring adequate clothing for the weather conditions.
Speaking of weather conditions, this is what you can expect based upon the time of year that you visit:
- February through May is windy season. Winds tend to move in quickly, reducing visibility and increasing the chances of being disoriented.
- Summer is the hottest time of year. The temperatures at White Sand in the summer months often exceed 100F (38C).
- June through September is monsoon season. Thunderstorms are common, and you may encounter lightning without rain.
- November through February is the coldest time of year and overnight temperatures are often below freezing.
2. A Plan
Tell someone who is not visiting White Sands with you where you are going within the park and when you plan to return. Never hike alone, and always keep your children in sight. The wind easily sifts the lightweight, gypsum sand, making the terrain look different than it did earlier, erasing your tracks, and making it easy to get lost. Do not start a hike if the temp is at or above 85F! Tragically, a French couple died and their 9-year-old son was found severely dehydrated when attempting a hike on a 100F day in 2015.
3. Park Map
Download an aerial, geo-referenced, unigrid, or Dunes Drive map from the National Park Service web site here.
4. Sun protection
Even in cooler temperatures, the sun reflecting off of the gypsum sand can cause severe sunburns. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and at least SPF 15 sunscreen. Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen as directed.
LOTS of it! It’s easy to get dehydrated quickly in the arid conditions of the Chihuahuan Desert. Pack at least one gallon of drinking water per person. Water bottles can be filled at the White Sands Visitor Center, but there is no water out in the dunes.
6. High-Energy and Salty Snacks
A condition called hyponatremia can occur when you’ve had too much water without replenishing electrolytes or eating salts. If you’ve had plenty of water but begin experiencing nausea, muscle cramps, or disorientation, have a salty snack.
Easy-to-carry high-energy, salty snacks include:
- Dried fruit
- Trail mix
- Energy bars
Pro Tip: Add a few sports drinks, a bottle of PediaLyte, or other electrolyte-rich options to your water supply to help fight against hyponatremia.
7. Fully-Charged Cell Phone
Be sure your phone is fully charged before you head out into the white sand dunes. If possible, take a portable charger with you. Conserve your phone battery by placing it in airplane mode or turning it off completely while you are out exploring the dune field. Cell phone coverage can vary throughout White Sands, so remember that it is often possible to successfully text even if you cannot complete a phone call. If you have an emergency and are unable to dial 911, text message a friend and ask them to call 911 for you.
A whistle is louder and carries farther than a human voice, especially a human who is experiencing dehydration or other distress.
9. Flashlight and Extra Batteries
Taking in the sunset at White Sands National Monument is an amazing experience. But once the sun sets, it is very dark in the park. Be sure to have both a flashlight and extra batteries on hand.
10. Full Tank of Gas
The White Sands Visitor Center does not sell gas, and the nearest gas station is about 15 miles away in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
What do you think? Have you visited the White Sands National Monument? Is there anything you’d add to this list? Share your comments below.
Don’t just take my word for it! Here is what other bloggers are saying about what you need to pack to visit White Sands National Monument:
- In addition to a similar list, the self-described “ordinary family” over at Suitcases and Sippy Cups suggests lip balm. I always have a tube in my pocket, so it didn’t even dawn on me to add that to my own list. Smart!
- The Hiking Housewife has this list of essentials for your day pack on her blog