Hike of the Week: White Sands National Monument, NM

Wander through the world's largest gypsum dune field in New Mexico.
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White Sands

White Sands is otherworldly.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 5 miles (loop)
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: 3 out of 5

Summary

Less is more here, where a 275-square-mile swath of white outruns the sight line in every direction. The largest gypsum dunefield on the planet, White Sands registers as a smudge on satellite images, as if a massive storm was overtaking south-central New Mexico. Visitors this month know that’s not the case, as pleasant temps in the mid-70s and calm days make for the perfect recipe for ticking off the 5-mile Alkali Flat Trail. Less a “trail” than a general route, it circles long-gone Lake Otero with far-off views to the San Andres and Sacramento Mountains. (Start from the trailhead at 32.8203, -106.2732.) The park closes to day trippers around sunset, but that’s the best time to see dusk paint the gypsum pink and orange, so gun for one of the 10 first-come, first-serve backcountry permits and post up along the 2.2-mile Backcountry Camping Loop (trailhead: 32.8098, -106.2645). Permit Required for camping ($3/person); obtain from the visitor center. Contact nps.gov/whsa

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