White Sands National Monument | A Dog Friendly Road Trip

Tucked within an active U.S. military missile range in a remote area of the southwestern corner of New Mexico, White Sands National Monument is a paradoxically beautiful reverse oasis. Quite small yet feelingly vast, the monument occupies only about 275 square miles of space within the same missile range where the first nuclear weapons tests (atomic bombs that were later dropped on Japan) were carried out in what is now Trinity Site.  The sand dunes are made of gypsum, the last remnants of an ancient ocean that once occupied the area some 250 million years ago, and some change. 

White Sands National Monument Dog FriendlyWhite Sands National Monument was my first stop on a 2,400 mile relocation road trip. My original plans were to take Edie and back country camp in one of only five camp sites in the park. Yep! White Sands is INCREDIBLY dog friendly! My timeline and planning didn’t exactly match my grand plan and I quickly came to acceptance that I would not be spending the night inside the monument, instead having to settle for my ride or die motel of choice, Motel 6 (most dog friendly budget accommodation I have found to date), about 20 minutes from the monument, in Alamogordo. I only visited the park for a couple hours and I could have stayed there all day long. Edie and I had so much fun playing in the back country dunes!White Sands National Monument

Note to self: in theory, driving across the desert in the middle of the night is a good idea. Visibility is clear (usually), there are not likely to be any elk or deer darting in front of the car, and there’s minimal traffic. But, the temptation of road hypnosis is real!

Imagination can have you almost convinced you might have seen chupacabra or moth man in the almost super moon full moon night sky. The dunes are kind of that creepy when the moon is that large and bright – they practically glow in the dark! You know how a completely snow covered landscape reflects that moonlight? Well, try that and add in aliens (Area 51 and Roswell are only about three hours away – road trip consideration), any sorts of bad juju that must be bound to creating frigging atom bombs, and a highly caffeinated, physically exhausted, sleep deprived, over active monkey brain thoughts. Anything to stay awake! Combine all that with the fact the only time Edie has ever been subdued at a border patrol check point was at the missile range pass, and I had to really wonder if there was something supernatural happening….

Despite checking in to the motel at 2:30 am, by 7:30 we were back in the car and heading to the monument. I wanted to be at the dunes as soon after sunrise as possible. Desert sunrises are nothing short of inspirational.

White Sands National Monument

The visitor center is immediately upon entrance. I got to the monument before the center opened so couldn’t go inside to rent a waxed sled to ride the dunes… which is sort of a moot point because the park is adamant that no dogs are to be left unattended in vehicles at any time. This is because the temperatures in the dunes get fatally hot most of the year. At 8:00 am on a particular November morning it was 40 degrees F outside (about 4 degrees C), but like I mentioned, the center wasn’t open yet, and I had a jam packed day ahead of me so I headed straight for the dunes to go for a brief hike.

I have been wanting to visit White Sands for a rather long time. It was close enough I could have done so much sooner in the span of a weekend out from Phoenix. But it was far enough away – about a 6 hour drive – that I put it in the “not as convenient” bucket. I am SO glad I finally went and I am rather sad I waited so long and had such little time to spend in the monument.

White Sands National Monument

While White Sands is probably not on everyone’s bucket list, having finally been for myself, I cannot exclaim enough how much you should really make the effort to go if you are in the region. I don’t see how anyone could be disappointed with the rugged beauty of these dunes! Plus, I even have a super solid fantastic Mexican food recommendation for you (read on) that is only about half an hour away from the entrance. How do you like them manzanas? See what I did there? :o)

White Sands National Monument

What to know:

  • The monument is located within an active missile range and military base. It is subject to periodic closures during missile tests. Verify access availability prior to your venture out to make sure you don’t show up during a closure. NPS does an excellent job of providing updates, which you can check here. If you want to backcountry camp, you must arrive at the Visitor’s Center before 2 pm. Otherwise you have no chance of getting a permit. When I was initially planning I called the backcountry office to verify details. The ranger advised me it’s even best to call them a couple of days prior to your intended camping stay because if there are any tests, you will not be able to obtain any permits. I’m still ultra bummed it didn’t work out for me but my timeline went from flexible to not at all in a hurry. If you’re a camper, I say DO IT!
  • Admission is a very low fee: $5.00. But – if you have the annual inter-agency pass your entrance fee is already covered (an investment I make each year because I tend to visit numerous parks making the all park pass a best value for me).
  • DOG FRIENDLY ALERT! The NPS isn’t exactly known for being offering most dog accessible places (wilderness… yada yada yada…). Well, White Sands is SUPER dog accessible. You can even take your pup/s backcountry camping with you! Edie and I romped throughout the dunes. I swear my angsty little creaton discovered a reason to live running around those dunes. She had so much fun! Editorial disclaimer: dogs are to be kept on leashes as all times.
  • Exposure risk is real! Temperatures range from freezing in late fall and winter to “my eyes are boiling” hot in summer. Even in most of fall and spring it can get quite “warm.” Fun fact: unlike beach sand, the gypsum won’t get hot, though, so although your skin might feel like it’s sizzling, you can walk on the sand dunes without getting burned. Don’t underestimate the intensity of the sun and temperatures. Bring, and wear, sunscreen, even in the winter. The sun reflects right off that gypsum and onto you. Shade only exists in concept and imagination in the dunes. You are in the desert.
  • Sunglasses are a great idea… for a couple of reasons: 1) the sun, and 2) the wind! No one wants sand in their eyes. I have it on good record that the wind can be downright offensive. Food for thought: if you’re bringing your pup, consider eye gear for them. I had Edie’s doggles on hand just in case. But, lucky for that mutt, there was no wind so she didn’t have to wear them.
  • Food and water. Water is essential… even in winter! Exposure and dehydration are definite ways to dampen your perception of fun. What I was saying about the temperature? You will get dehydrated before realizing it. You are in the desert. There are no cafes or restaurants inside the monument but there are some great picnic stations you can enjoy.
  • You can sled the dunes! You may bring your own or rent at the Visitor’s Center. I even have some friends who brought their snow boards and used those on the dunes. The gypsum isn’t slippery like snow is, so you need to wax the sleds. You can rent them for a nominal fee at the Visitor Center and return them for a partial refund. I watched some people sledding on the dunes and they looked like they were having a blast.
  • Activities range from aforementioned hiking and sledding to horseback riding (your own), cycling, backcountry camping, ranger programs, and salivation worthy photography (my skills should not be an ambassador for the staggering beauty of the dunes).
  • Lodging is available in Alamogordo or Las Cruces. Las Cruces is a larger and more vibrant community than Alamogordo. If you’re going through or staying in Las Cruces, do your taste buds and bellies a solid by stopping at Si Senor Express. It was recommended to me by a local from Hatch, NM, and she knows good Mexican food.White Sands National Monument

Have you been to White Sands? Do you have anything to add I might have missed? Or are you now Google Maps checking coordinates and route to plan your next road trip? Comments and recommendations or questions, comment below and let us know! I’d love to hear from you.

White Sands National Monument

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Despite my persistent whining, crying, and moaning about being “stuck” still in Phoenix, my reality is I’m close to leaving. The number of weeks I am here is longer than the original intention. But, by the love of family – the kind you make not the kind that is kin – and friends, I still have a “home.” Even when crying about being “homeless,” Mom Two, Kathy, assures me I have as long as I need to stay with them. Which, I appreciate. More than appreciate. Dad Two, Pete, greets me every morning with a daily reporting on my progress, challenges, how I’m addressing those challenges…. Between Pete and my dissertation chair, Dr. Dale, I have more motivation to find every conceivable way to complete my data collection interviews than a gymnast training for Rio.

***With, of course, more sugary and fatty diet options… of course. Metaphorical back flips, not physical. Heck, I am so out of shape right now, I can’t even do a handstand, anymore. Not even on a wall. Can’t kick that robustly enlarged bottom up over my shoulders without risk of throwing out my back and breaking my neck.***

I told Pete and Dr. Dale they are very much the personality equivalent of dopplegangers if ever existed. Right down to their ages, education and backgrounds, military service, vast professional accomplishments… oh, and ultra type a and insane alpha male dynamics. With senses of humor, and affections for me… when not wanting to kick me in my tush or neck, I’m sure. Between those two and their tough love philosophies, even if I wanted to be a lazy loafer, I’d have no chance of succeeding on that front.

What bothers me is I don’t have an equitable way to repay them for their love and generosity to Edie and me. Not only do I have their shelter, I receive their counsel and wisdom from very successful and moral lives lived. It does not matter whether the talks are over split pots of coffee and morning paper reading with Pete or midnight margaritas (who am I kidding – full witching hour cocktails were consumed) with Kathy. There is no possible way I can even come close to bringing them the value they give me.

I love and respect these two as my own parents. Heck, they were both as actively involved in raising my best friend and me in high school as my own parents. Where Amy was, I was, and vice versa. Heck, we even wore each others’ clothes, constantly. The only things that were off limits to each other were bras because her “ladies” were much more developed than mine. Still are.

I’ve spoken with Amy about my feelings and discomfort. I’m not used to being in a position of accepting help. I’m not good at asking for help. I am intensely uncomfortable with that vulnerability to another person. That discomfort and extreme unease of letting myself go to any state of personal interdependence or -any- dependence is a common theme in my many failed attempts at relationships. In fact, numerous men called me out on it. I know it. That is deeply rooted within me.

I had lunch with a couple of friends this week. We spoke about my discouraged optimism and my challenges with lack of progress on data and relocation. We spoke, specifically, about the difficulty in vulnerability and accepting help and love for the sake of loving help. Struggling to not feel as though I am taking advantage of someone if I take their assistance.

I know how much joy I receive when I help someone who sincerely needs and receives my help. I helped many friends with no expectation or wish of reciprocity. But, I have a hard time even considering I could be the person someone wants to help. I don’t know why, I just do. And, so as my friends made sure to observe to me on Friday, my dissertation data collection going badly – worse than I could have predicted – and the necessity for me to remain in Phoenix under Mom and Dad Two’s care and supervision, might be a life lesson for me to learn.  And the lesson might be to receive help without ability to neutralize.hipster swimming pool float for dogs

After all, Edie has her own pool boat float. I promise you she. does. not. love. The boat or her doggles.

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Errance
The French have a word we don’t possess in English. Errance. It means “to travel without any clear destination.” Isn’t that rather a lovely word?

 

Finca Austria Nosara Costa Rica Sunset Pacific
For most of my friends, I know my plan – to not have a plan – is physically discomforting. I understand. They care for me, and above wanting me to have happiness and a deeper fulfillment. They want my safety. I desire safety for myself, too. Which is part of the reason I’m not planning a PanAmerican drive from Nogales through Darien Gap. Although, I would -LOVE- to do that. I don’t have a death wish, and I’m not an adventure junkie. However, I am insistent that – as of right now – I cannot force a prescriptive process to what I am going to do next after having completely dismantled my life in Phoenix. Selling all of my possessions and accounting my belongings to 12 boxes that now reside in my mom and stepfather’s basement was not a decision – nor action – I took lightly. But… deconstruction to rebuild at a later time… IS… the very process.
Oh, and if I could afford to, I’d gladly set a clear destination back to this view atop a hill in Nosara, CR.
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I’m leaving it. Selling, donating, and giving away almost everything I own to follow a path that will lead to an unknown outcome. That scares me to such a degree I have a difficult time articulating the scope of fear
I feel. To follow a voice inside of me that has been muffled for far, far, too long. On one hand, I’m scared that leaving the work force at a pivotal point in development and advancement opportunity will be
damaging for my career and my long term earning potential. But on the other hand, I feel such an internal dissonance, I cannot continue to remain in such state of being.

So that being, I am taking the risk. I have been saving a substantial portion of my gross income for quite some time, and while financial insecurity is a big fear of mine (note the trend of fear), I’m making a calculated gamble and feeling thankful I have a financial cushion to support my step out. Quite a few more steps have to be made and I won’t receive confirmation of the current plan (this would be Plan D-2 of my life, D being my PhD) for about 4-5 more months. There is a very strong likelihood (not 100% confirmed but all, current, indicators are my new reality will be) I will be living in another country this time next year. Not working, traditionally. Living in a much reduced standard of living than I am accustomed to, so far out from my comfort zone I don’t even have a word to describe how much my world will be rocked, and living in complete service to others and channeling as much moxy as I will be able to muster.
sola vieja she travels puerto viejo pura vida
My mother is already having some of her own anxieties about me moving so far, but to her credit, she is supporting my choice. She is my biggest cheerleader and advocate, and is behind this move of mine, in spite of the sacrifice that means to her for me to be so far away and with reduced access to communicate with me.

I’m <so> scared. But it’s time for me to get really uncomfortable. Because, I surpassed the magic American salary that is supposed to bring happiness and contentment, and although I am a generally happy woman, I’m not content. I can do more than this.

Vieja Sola.

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Louisa May Alcott is attributed with stating the following: “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.” Humph – isn’t that good, in theory. As a PhD, I know all about theory and application. I also know I have not taken my ship far from port, and incurred damage from drifting in too close to the shore and rocky bottoms.

sailing San Francisco Bay
I have an acrylic cube of 2″ X 2″ cards, upon all, are written would you rather type of questions. One card question has remained with me through the years. Something along the lines of: would you rather have a life of uncertainty and adventure or a life of quiet safety? While a part of me is comforted with the idea of safety and security, I am almost always in some sort of unsettled state. And, my truth is, I have been ignoring a life I want to have for so long. For so long I have been settling and reassessing and resettling and finding myself in a very comfortable, outwardly appealing life in a rather comfortable middle class lifestyle. I work hard, and I have worked hard, to create a very stable, financially secure, socially satisfactory, generally healthy life.


I am not rejecting my life or my lifestyle. I am TRULY and earnestly grateful for my blessings. I do not, for a second, believe I am entitled to any of it. And while I have a career in which I am able to contribute to a positive, life-altering, outcome for many people, while the character of the work is uplifting for me, the nature of the work isn’t compatible for my long-term well-being. So I’m making some changes. And stepping far out from my comfort, and radically blowing up this life I worked so hard to build.

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