White Sands National Monument
On our way from Las Cruces to Ruidoso in New Mexico, Kelly Bou and I stopped for a few hours in White Sands National Monument on 2 June 2011.  A public oasis in the middle of the US military's White Sands Missile Range, the park is notable for its white gypsum sand dunes.  Getting there early, we hiked the Alkali Flat Trail (loop) in complete solitude which was a most sublime experience.  Actually, there is no trail per se, but the parks service has staked orange markers along the route.  Despite the presence of the markers, many of them have been toppled by the wind and buried by sand, and on at least one occasion, I had to make an educated guess as to where to go next.  It would be easy to get turned around and lost in the dunes, and I felt a bit more secure having my GPS with me.  The trailhead was deserted when we started out, but by the time we returned, it was teeming with tourists frolicking on the nearby dunes.  Some even had plastic toboggans, but few bothered to venture very far from the trailhead.  It was a shame that there was not a real lake nearby because I would have liked to jump in some water to cool off!  After our hike, we walked the short Interdune Boardwalk before stopping by the park visitor center for a much needed cold drink.
Follow the orange markers...if you can! Kelly snaps some photographs of the dunes.
Lots of annoying little gnats were flying about though. The sand is pristine on this morning.
Finding the next marker became a game of sorts. Kelly heads toward another marker.
This photo conveys the actual colour of the sand quite well. The dunes seem endless.
It's amazing that it can thrive in this harsh environment. A few plants manage to survive in the interdune areas.  This is Sand Verbena, one of the hardiest wildflowers in the park.
It's probably pissed off that I grabbed it for a photo! Only a handful of creatures manage to survive in the dunes, and this is one of them, a darkling beetle.
Cue the theme from Lawrence of Arabia... Kelly keeps hiking across the dunes.
Feels just like sandstone. These striations in the sand are actually pretty hard.
We had to empty our shoes of sand several times throughout our hike. Kelly climbs up a dune.
The beetle's tracks are pretty straight as if it was moving with a purpose... These appear to be beetle tracks.
This is roughly where we had to make an educated guess as to where to go next. Kelly searches about for the next marker.  A wind that has picked up is already obliterating Kelly's tracks.
I didn't pick this one up. Here is another darkling beetle on the move.
We noticed tire tracks not far from the outermost trail marker... Kelly finally reaches the Alkali Flat at the edge of the dunes.  Note the buildings on the horizon.
So where did all the fish go? The Alkali Flat was once covered by Lake Otero during the last Ice Age.
A very elegant line, I must say! These are known as transverse-barchan dunes, crescent-shaped dunes that join together to form long ridges.
More of the same! Kelly continues to follow markers on the return portion of the loop.
I get thirsty just looking at these pictures! Here is another look back at the seemingly endless dunes.
Wouldn't it be great if a Sandworm came up and gobbled up all the tourists?? Kelly returns to the trailhead.
Kelly spotted this lizard with the striking colour. This earless lizard is remarkably active as it scurries around and underneath the Interdune Boardwalk.
Looks like a flat hike, but there are plenty of ups and downs!

Total Distance:  8.7 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  3 hours 6 minutes
Total Elevation Gain:  351 metres

GPX Data