Stepping on the fine, white, powdery gypsum sand, I half expected a camel to saunter by. White Sands National Monument is so other worldly, I felt transported to another place — one that harks back to Lawrence of Arabia fantasies and romantic notions of sleeping under the stars like a Bedouin.
But as luck would have it, you can sleep under the stars among the sand dunes! If you get to the Visitor Center early (they open at 9AM), you can sign up for one of 10 coveted backcountry tent camping spots. Please note that they don’t allow car or RV camping.
At the Visitors Center you’ll sign waivers, receive a thorough talk on preparedness — you are sleeping among deserted sand dunes with no source of water, near a missile testing range, after all 🙂 — and hear instructions on how to locate your camp site. Camp sites are nestled in the small valleys between sand dunes. At the trailhead, you follow the posted trail markers, being sure to look ahead to keep the next one or two trail markers in sight. Once you arrive at your campsite, you’ll need to set up your tent within 5 feet of the marker.
We were fortunate to land a spot – site #2 to be exact – and after a mile long hike through the dunes, the sounds of cars, and other people, melted away into blissful silence. I highly recommend doing this if you can.
Needless to say, sunsets and sunrises were magical to behold. As was the stargazing.
If that’s not up your alley, you could also try your hand at sand sledding. You can buy a sled at the gift shop in the Visitors Center for $14.99 and if you return it the next day with your receipt, you’ll receive $5 back. I definitely won’t be winning any style awards for my sand sledding performance (video available on Instagram). 🙂
RV/Oversized vehicle parking: There’s ample parking at White Sands. If you’re overnight tent camping, you can park at the large trailhead parking lot for easier access. Be aware that the park gates are locked at night and only reopen in the morning.
Valley of Fires Recreational Area
If a night at White Sands National Monument has left you feeling like you’re fresh off an adventure in the Sahara Desert, try camping the next night at Valley of Fires. You’ll feel transported to the lava fields of Hawaii. (Only thing missing is a Mai Tai). Sand dunes and lava fields all within miles of one another? That must be why New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment”.
The lava at Valley of Fires didn’t originate from a volcano. Rather, the lava flowed up from vents in the valley floor. The paved Malpais Nature trail provides visitors with a nice stroll through these interesting lava fields.
RV/Oversized vehicle parking: We enjoyed our overnight camping experience at Valley of Fires. Many sites can accommodate both smaller class C RVs to larger class A’s and include water and electric. Most RV sites overlook the lava fields and have a nice covered picnic table area to enjoy a meal or drinks while watching the sunset.