If you haven’t seen White Sands at sunset, you haven’t fully experienced its beauty
Written by Cassie McClure
Its beauty is otherworldly, but its location relative to Las Cruces is within reach. White Sands National Monument is a long-cherished jewel in our desert landscape. For visitors coming from near and from around the globe alike, White Sands has plenty of activities that let you experience the wonder of this unique landscape. One activity in particular will give you not only the sights, but the history.
The Sunset Strolls at White Sands have been ongoing since the 1970s. It’s a ranger-guided tour that starts about an hour before sunset and highlights the panoramic views of the area. Robin Milne, Park Ranger at White Sands National Monument, explains that the sunset adds an extra dimension to enjoying the monument. “Every sunset is different,” she notes. “You can go out every day for a week and each day experience something different. Many visitors describe it as breathtaking or just simply can’t find the words to explain it. The program itself is given while the sun is up and ends when the sun starts to touch the tip of the San Andres Mountains.”
The stroll is included with the monument fees, which are $5 for those 16 and older and free for those 15 and younger. Pets are allowed as long as they are non-disruptive, on a leash no longer than six feet, and under physical control at all times. Pets, like humans, should leave only footprints, so make sure to bring a bag.
The stroll gives visitors a chance to learn more about the gypsum dunes. “During the walk the whole geological story of the Tularosa Basin is covered. From 250 million years ago with the Permian Sea to the uplift of the San Andres and Sacramento Mountains,” Robin explains.
With its starkness, it’s hard to imagine that there are animals that call White Sands home, but some do show up during the walks. “It depends on the time of year for encountering wildlife,” Robin says. “During the winter months, very few animals are active. In the spring and summer, we can encounter lizards and darkling beetles.”
While the walk is leisurely, it’s listed as an easy to moderate hike that requires ascending and descending a few dune slopes. The hike is approximately one mile in length, and it is interspersed with stops along the path. The stroll doesn’t require climbing, but it does lead visitors off-road, across, and over the sand. Wheelchairs or strollers aren’t accessible, but accommodations to visitors with special needs will be made as best as possible. Robin recommends also that visitors be mindful of the location of their vehicle after dark.
Another factor of nature plays a role in the evening strolls. Weather can vary drastically and change quickly. The decision to cancel a program due to weather is rarely made more than 30 minutes before the program start time, but it’s requested that you call the monument at 575-479-6124 ext. 236 to confirm that day’s outing.
“Typically in extreme weather, we do not give the program for safety concerns like white outs with strong wind,” notes Robin, who recommends always coming prepared outfitted with a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and water. If it’s cold, of course also a jacket and maybe gloves. In the summer, you’re welcome to take your shoes off and go barefoot.”
There are no age limitations for the stroll, and families are encouraged to come out. “The program is very kid friendly,” Robin confirms. “Toddlers typically really enjoy playing in the sand while their parents listen to the program.”
Heather Irwin went on an outing with her five-year-old daughter’s preK class with her toddler in tow. “We arrived at our designated dune just as the sun was setting,” she remembers. “Our girls ran around, wide-eyed and ecstatic. It felt like we were on another planet. All we could see was the hazy light behind the clouds, but the colors were vivid and majestic. We decided we would come back again. It’s a perfect place for kids.”