This National Park in New Mexico Has the World's Largest White-sand Dune Field
Some places are so stunning and surreal that they transport you to another world. White Sands National Park is one such place. Here, the sand is so white it resembles mounds of snow and the dunes are so big and rolling that they look like giant white waves. The otherworldly effect is only enhanced by the New Mexico blue sky, which makes the white of the dunes pop.
The dunes, which are made of super-soft gypsum sand, sprawl for 275 square miles in south-central New Mexico, creating the world's largest gypsum dune field. In addition to their striking appearance, the gypsum sand dunes are extremely rare and house 800 animal species, including the park's endemic "white species" — mice, lizards, moths, and other insects that have gradually changed color, becoming lighter in color than their relatives elsewhere.
Visitors to White Sand National Park can hike on and sled down the giant mounds of powder-like sand. Popular hiking trails include Dune Life Nature Trail, a 1-mile loop that passes over two steep dunes, and the more strenuous Alkali Flat Trail, a 5-mile round-trip hike that goes up and down several dunes and passes by the final remnants of Lake Otero. (Don't let the word "flat" fool you.)
For a truly unique experience, pick up a plastic sled at the White Sands Trading gift shop and sled down the sandy dunes, which feel like powder snow. And every month from April to October, the park hosts a guided full-moon hike that allows you to experience the eerie glow of the full moon reflecting on the white sand. You might even spot some of the park's nocturnal wildlife, like the kit fox, coyote, or desert cottontail who come out to hunt and forage when the sun sets and the sand cools.
White Sand National Park is open year-round and week-long park access is $25 per vehicle.