Picture this: driving through rural New Mexico, seeing nothing but trailer homes, the locally owned car repair shop has hand painted advertisements hanging in the window, and the only non-drive through restaurant is a lonely Applebee’s. A pretty unlikely place to see something spectacular, right?
On our long drive to the White Sands Nation Monument, we passed by trains and open grassy fields, then we saw it. The white sandy dunes seemed almost like a mirage, mismatching the surrounding landscape. I kept thinking, “There is no possible way a sandy oasis could have sprouted here!” Then, it appeared out of nowhere. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.
Our first stop was to the Monument's welcome center, where we picked up a rented disk sled, some wax for speeding down the dunes, and a guide map for exploring. It was amazing to learn that the sand dunes are always moving with the wind pushing them around, causing them to constantly change their curve and shape. Which also means there is no ‘magic picture’ spot because one day a gorgeous dune is there, then gone the next! That also means that no two dunes are alike, kind of like snowflakes! But the desert, sandy kind of snowflake..
You also get full access to the dunes in certain areas where you can actually walk on the sand, going out and exploring as much as you would like.
Then, we waxed up the sled and took it out for a ride! Although I don't think the wax was any help, because the ride down the dunes was only fast and crazy down the steepest slope. Which we searched for of course!
Looking over the numerous dune hills, the landscape was specked with hikers scattered over the horizon, hardly distinguishable from tall plants from a distance. You could easily get lost out here and without a proper bread crumb trail (or in our case, heavy foot prints), because every direction you looked, seemed identical to your starting point. We ventured out with caution, always telling ourselves that we had to be table to see our car; a good rule of thumb to prevent being stranded for eternity. A very likely reality.
The foliage was quite unique, seemingly planting itself wherever it wanted. Looking around there were random patches of small brush plants, a lone mini palm tree, and twiggy branched bushes almost anchored onto the sand. I stared at the plants, which were deeply rooted in the sand, and wondered if they had access to nutrients and water? Must be the secrets of the surviving desert plants!
As the sun started to shift towards the West, we decided to get into the car and start our long car ride back to Albuquerque for Day 2 of the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival. We kissed the sands goodbye and almost as quickly as they appeared, the white sandy dunes vanished into the rural New Mexico landscape as we drove away.