White Sands National Park: Same White Sand, Different Name
My 40th Birthday Foray into Arizona and New Mexico
Valentines Day | Friday & Saturday, February 14-15, 2020
Three years ago Diane and I had visited White Sands National Monument for the first time while we were traveling through the deserts of the southwest on our Honeymoon Adventure. We really enjoyed our experience camping within the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, so when I started planning my 40th birthday trip I had considered returning for another overnight visit and added it to the possible list of places we could go. While it wasn’t high up on my list at first, as soon as I found out that White Sands National Monument officially became the 62nd designated National Park on December 20, 2019 when the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 was signed into law, I quickly moved it up on the list since I figured it was probably going to start getting even busier in the future now that it’s a full-fledged National Park!
After spending Thursday night in Alamogordo, we woke up early on Friday so we could head over to the White Sands Visitor Center before they opened to obtain a backcountry camping permit for the night. The last time we were here was during spring break and it was pretty busy, so if we had not arrived early and got in line that day, we would not have gotten a permit. I wasn’t sure how busy the backcountry was going to be this time of the year and I didn’t want to take any chances, so we arrived about 45 minutes before they were supposed to open. This time we arrived at the Visitor Center and there was no one there, but while we were waiting I noticed a small sign on the door that stated that the backcountry permits were now given out at the entrance fee station along the road into the park which was already open. We headed over there and acquired our permit for the night without having to wait and found out there was only one other permit given out today so far. Unlike last time, we were not offered a choice of campsites and were assigned campsite #2 which happens to be the same one we stayed at last time. We left the park after getting our permit and headed back into town for a while to take care of some errands.
Welcome to White Sands National Park. Although it is officially White Sands National Park now, it’s so soon after the designation that all of the signs and literature still bear the old National Monument moniker.
After a late lunch we headed back into White Sands in the afternoon, packed our backpacks and hiked in to our campsite. The sand was still pretty damp from the recent storms and the hiking was easy. We set up camp and then took off to photograph the distant and remote dunes until it was dark out. We watched the sun set over the San Andres Mountains and then hiked back in the twilight, still taking photos along the way. It was another amazing experience and a great way to spend our Valentines Day together!
Lines In The Sand
We got our tent setup at campsite #2 and then headed off into the Heart of the Sands for the rest of the evening.
Off into the backcountry…
Gypsum Sand Dune
Diane found this little formation the last time we were here, and we ended up walking right by it again. It looks a little bit different after three years.
Here’s a view of Twin Buttes on the horizon.
Watching the Sunset
The Setting Sun
Sierra Blanca (11,981) dominates the horizon to the northeast.
A beautiful evening in the middle of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.
Dune at Dusk
While Diane was getting the inside of the tent ready with her headlamp on, I took a few long exposures in the dark.
Saturday morning marked the beginning of the final weekend of our trip. I woke up early so I could head out to photograph the dunes in the changing light of dawn before the sun came up. Diane decided to stay in the tent and sleep a little longer while I went out on my own. The weather forecast had only predicted a low temperature of 40 overnight which sounded nice so we didn’t bother putting the rainfly on our tent for warmth, but it definitely got much colder out than that because the condensation inside our tent was frozen when I got up. I wandered around the dunes for a while taking photos until the sun came up and then headed back to meet Diane at camp.
When The Morning Dawns
The Morning Sun
Texture & Shadow
White Sand and the San Andres Mountains
One last shot of our camp as I returned before we packed up and headed back out to the trailhead.
Before leaving the park we finished driving around the loop road through the Heart of the Sands and then hiked the short Interdune Boardwalk Trail. We returned to Alamogordo for a late breakfast and then headed off to spend the rest of the day at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. We seem to always have an amazing time in the White Sands!