Endless Summer in the National Parks: Get Lost in the Dunes

Backcountry Loop, White Sands National Monument, NM
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Backcountry Loop, White Sands National Monument, NM
White Sands

At 275 square miles, White Sands is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Photo by: Ian Shives / tandemstock.com

Big, stark, and dazzlingly bright, White Sands is like a winter wonderland minus the snow. You can even go sledding (pick up a waxed plastic saucer at the gift shop). But nighttime might be the real show-stopper. Snag a permit for one of the 10 dunefield campsites and get ready for bedazzling stars or a moon so bright it turns the sand to silver. And because the monument closes to day visitors at sunset, backpackers on the Backcountry Loop get the celestial show all to themselves. Hit the 2.2-mile loop winding up and down the dunefield’s 40-foot-tall gypsum mounds. Pitch your tent, then climb the nearest dune to watch the Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy, and approximately one bajillion stars twinkle into view. Pack all water on this dry route. Average January high/low 57°F/22°F Season October to April for milder temps Permit Pick up in person up to one hour before sunset at the visitor center; $3/person