C & I are driving our rented convertible along empty stretches of road in southern New Mexico just before sunrise; the barren landscape of the Chihuahuan desert surrounds us on all sides. I have seen White Sands missile range signposts along the road, I have heard about the frequent missile testing road closures and I have read about the undetonated debris warnings. I plan to steer clear of the White Sands Missile range. I have also heard about the undulating pristine white gypsum dunes spread over 275 sq miles inside the White Sands National Monument, that’s where we are headed. I am barely 10-12 miles away from the monument entrance and the brown desert extends in all directions as far as I can see. I crane my neck in anticipation of the impending landscape change but I’m disappointed. There are no gypsum sand dunes imposingly rising out of the flat terrain that I can see; there is no sign of white in the brown-green landscape that stretches on unyieldingly. My curiosity rises and I will the car to go faster.
The road curves gently and the ‘Entering White Sands National Monument’ signpost flashes by; there is still no sign of a majestic field in white. Soon we pass the still closed striking Pueblo style Visitor Center and continue on the park road called the Dunes Drive with no dune in sight. The desert landscape slowly gives way to low white embankments on both sides of the road and I am baffled. Where are the majestic dunes? C parks the car in the first parking lot on the drive. As we climb up the embankment we have no idea of what to expect. And just like that I’m in heaven. Waiting at the top of the embankment is a pristine white sand field basking and glistening in the first rays of the sun in complete solitude. The wave-like dunes stretch out as far as the eye can see and are sparsely covered with low plants and vegetation. There is immense beauty here and I feel as if I have found its source.
We explore the dunes, taking in their majesty. I look back to the parking lot, our car is a dot on the ground and the Dune Drive with its desert landscape is a twisting narrow strip of land surrounded by the unending dunes field on both sides. You fooled me well, Dunes Drive. We wander around, observing the low vegetation and searching for animal paw prints. We are soon joined by a family with 4 children. The children all have rented sand sleds at the Visitor center and start sledding down the hill. It looks wonderful. I don’t have a sled so I do the next best thing, I run down hill. It’s exhilarating. I climb up the steep slope again and run down at a breakneck speed, landing on my butt. I feel like I’m 10 again. As I run down the slope for the 3rd time I keep saying to myself that this is the last one. And then I run down for the 4th and soon the 5th time. Tired and covered with sand, I finally tear myself away from the tempting slope and walk back to the car. We still have many miles of the Dunes Drive to cover.
As we drive further, the formerly paved road becomes unpaved and white as the sand keeps getting blown away from the dunes. It offers spectacular vistas of the dunes and surrounding Sacramento mountain ranges. We hike the easy Interdune boardwalk trail and learn about the vegetation and animals that have adapted themselves to the White Sands environment. We learn about the geology of the area and the scientific processes that create and maintain the largest gypsum deposit in the world. We continue along Dunes drive and pass through some beautifully designed picnic areas. The backcountry camp-sites located nearby offer starry nights among the dunes. We park the car and hike along the Alkali Flat trail. This trail goes into the very heart of the dunes field. The trail is very long and we can just about cover a part of it.
The dunes here are majestic and powdery white, serene and untouched. They are undisturbed by vegetation or footprints. Their timeless fluid surface is covered with wind ripples. They are breathtakingly beautiful and mystical, and look like rolling hills of fresh powdered snow. I feel as if I have landed in the age of perpetual winter in the magical land of Narnia. This is no place to merely admire and sedately stroll; in a flash I’m all over the shimmering gypsum dunes. I zip up and down the dunes slopes as fast as I can. I lie down on the soft cool sand, make snow angels and roll over it. I climb to the top of the tallest dune that I can see and walk over its dome. I dance the dance of the possessed; I have become one with the dazzling white dunes. I sit down panting. I’m overwhelmed with the sheer joy of being there and seeing white Sands in this life. I reverently thank nature for creating this place. There is utter silence around me that echoes the profound stillness of my wandering mind and in that silence White Sand’s beauty shines ever so more.
I visited White sands monument in New Mexico in November 2012