White Sands National Monument

Click here to buy prints from this post

We got to White Sands National Monument just after it reopened and drove through the park (parts of it were, and still are, closed from the drone crash).

Picnic Area at White Sands National Park

Then we headed out to hike the Alkali Flats Trail, a 5.5 mile loop across loose sand dunes out to the Alkali Flats and back across the dunes. Our average hikes are 6 to 8 miles, so this didn’t seem daunting. Accounting for the sand and stopping for pictures etc, I anticipated it would take us less than 2 hours, so we brought about 1.5 liters of water with us.

White Sands National Park

As we started out there were lots of people walking and sledding on the dunes, but once we covered about a mile we were alone in the sand.

Textured dunes at White Sands National Park

It was sunny and the white sand reflects the sun, so it was blindingly bright in every direction. Sunglasses made it possible to see, but soon our eyes were tired from the brightness.

Alkali Flats at White Sands National Park

We made it out to the flats and then made the turn to loop back towards the parking lot.  The trail isn’t paved or groomed, it’s just marked with the occasional orange flag. As we walked over undulating dunes, trying to follow these markers we seemed to keep getting further and further from where we thought the parking lot was. Everything began to look the same and although we could see far in the distance, it was tough to tell what we were actually seeing. We had been out in the heat and the sun for well over two hours at this point and were out of water. I knew we couldn’t be far from our car, and we could see people in the distance, so it’s not like we were actually lost. But I realized why and how people go crazy in the desert. It’s so easy to get disoriented. There is no shade anywhere; looking down doesn’t even shield your eyes because the sun is reflected back up.

Glossy sand at White Sands National Park

My eyes needed a break, it’s physically difficult to walk on loose sand, we didn’t have enough water, and we didn’t bring any food. Even though rationally I knew that we’d be okay, I could feel the panic rising.

Footsteps in Sand at White Sands National Park

I saw the movie Gerry many years ago, Matt Damon and Casey Affleck play two friends who go hiking in the desert and get lost, run out of water, and basically lose their minds. Standing in the sand in the blinding sun I suddenly understood just how easy it is to go mad.   The feeling of this panic was different from any other panic I’ve ever experienced. I was tired, hungry, and thirsty, but no more than I have been on other hikes, what really was making me lose my grip on reality was the lack of shade. All of the other times I have hiked in the desert have either been short hikes or in the mountains where the mountain itself provides some shade.

Sand formations at White Sands National Park

Luckily, I held myself together and kept walking and just after the three hour mark we made it back to our car, which had food, water, and where I gave my eyes a break from the sun. This hike gave me a new respect for how quickly lack of water, food, and shade can mess with your mind. All I did was wander off a marked trail in a National Park and I started to lose my composure, I don’t even want to imagine the panic of truly being lost in the desert heat with no shade.

Now that I’m writing this, I realize a hat may have helped provide some shade… I guess that’s something to pack next time.

Plant in white sand at White Sands National Park

After the “drama” of the shadeless hike, we went to the gift shop and rented a sled and bought some wax and headed back out to sled on the dunes. We found a nice steep spot, waxed up the sled and took turns hurling ourselves down the dune. The more we sledded in the same spot, the more packed the sand got and the faster we’d go. It was so much fun!

Walking along a Sand Dune at White Sands National Park Sledding in White Sands National Park
Sledding in White Sands National Park Sledding in White Sands National Park
Running up a sand dune in White Sands National Park Sledding in White Sands National Park
Sledding in White Sands National Park Sledding in White Sands National Park


Then we watched the sun set and the wind blow the sand.

Camel at Sunset at White Sands National Park Footsteps in sand at sunset White Sands National ParkSand storm at sunsetSunset at White Sands National Park

Click here to buy prints from this post

This entry was posted in Julie, Photo, Writings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .