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Playing at the Beach … in Landlocked New Mexico

Playing at the Beach … in Landlocked New Mexico

Play at the beach in a landlocked desert in New Mexico … YES PLEASE!  Especially when that beach offers sledding … an activity traditionally reserved for snow!  White Sands National Monument has it all!  Kite flying, sledding & photography all mesh together in our amazing day at the “beach/snow slopes”.

Just before sunset at White Sands National Monument

Despite the fact that our day was sunny and in the mid 80’s the sand is NOT hot and doesn’t stick to you with salty residue like at the real beach (it also doesn’t freeze me like snowy sledding slopes!).  That’s because it’s made of gypsum eroded from the nearby mountains, not the traditional white sand beach “fish poop” as touted in this Newsweek article.   The gypsum is blown in the wind until it erodes making soft white sand, that’s even better than “real beach” sand.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the “real” beach, but a “real white sand beach” can be REALLY HOT … requiring wearing my crocs until we get to the water cooled portions.  Armed with sunglasses, lots of sunscreen, water and our trusty beach chairs, we drove around the back loop of the scenic drive until we selected a “really big” sand dune that looked perfect for our day’s adventure.  But first, we had to stop at the visitor center for the really important stuff:  buying our saucer sled (don’t forget the wax!).


You can bring your own saucer,  or purchase a sled from the visitor center for $16.99 (they’ll buy them back at the end of the day for $5.00 if you choose – and if there are any used saucers available, you can buy them for a discount – of course, the day we went, there were no used sleds available).  A caution when buying your saucer, pay attention to the weight limits – we saw lots of the lightweight plastic versions cracked in half – my guess is because someone too heavy wanted to save a few bucks and bought the lightweight saucer.

David climbing to the top of “our” sledding dune.

We bought one sled figuring if we loved it enough for both of us to go at the same time, we’d return for a second saucer.

Lookout Below!!!

After selecting the perfect dune, setting up our chairs at the base and waxing up the bottom of our saucer, we set off to the top of the dune.  Not sure why they forgot to install ski lifts on these dunes slopes, but the only way up was to climb … and climb … and climb… we were out of breath by the time we finally got to the tiptop and stopped mesmerized by stunning views in all directions.

Then it was time.  Time to put the sled on the top of the dune and push off…  slowly, slow motion trying to stay in a semi-straight line all the way down.  No fast flash sledding the first few times.  By the time one of us climbed up and sledded down, it was time for some water and a rest in the beach chair while the other person slicked up the saucer with wax and hiked to the top.

Watch out for Aliens on the slopes!

Starting around 10 AM, we took turns sledding down that dune ALL DAY LONG!  Until about 4 PM with just a quick break for an energy bar to keep on sledding.  We found out that once you get a “groove” in the sand, the saucer would go much faster and it became much more fun.  It seemed that everyone was protecting “their” groove with their lives, so we did the same.

The dino getting ready to go down the dune.

The next dune over was hosting a party (maybe a birthday party?) and had a tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur sledding with them – but once the dino tried rolling down the dune with the kids, the fun was over and the dino limped off to find his car.  🙂

The innovative shade for picnic tables

After we finally exhausted ourselves sledding for 6 hours… regrettably we still had another 4 1/2 hours before sunset.  So we retreated to the visitor center to watch the ever famous national park visitor center movie – a nice cool respite after being out in the heat of the day.

We hiked the Dune Life nature trail and traipsed the Interdune Boardwalk, read every placard along the 16 mile round trip scenic drive, stopped for “lunch” in one of the most adorable picnic areas we’ve ever seen in a national park/monument – we had sandwiches in the cooler that we were too busy to eat while sledding.

Finally it got to be closer to sunset and we decided to drive back to the back of the scenic drive loop and take a walk on the  Alkali Flats Trail – we had no intention of walking the 5 mile loop, but it seemed like a good place to get away from all the footprints in the sand for some photo ops.

We soon found that we weren’t going to get away from footsteps in the sand, there were just too many too far.  So we gave up just enjoying the dunes and the scenery.

Making a “snow” angel

Sunset was OK, not spectacular, but the shifting shadows on the dunes provided enough photographic entertainment for one “magic” hour – that stretched into two … HINT HINT — after the sun drops behind the mountains it gets COLD!!!  Hard to imagine a few hours before it was mid-90’s and now, even David admitted he was a bit chilly.  Me?  I’m shiverrrriiiingggg!!!  🙂

If you enjoy off the wall things to do in an almost national park (national monument), do not miss White Sands National Monument!  What did you enjoy most?  Please leave a comment and share!  Cheers!  Jan

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