Wandering White Sands National Monument (NM)

It was 1912 that New Mexico became this country’s 47th state, and 1942 (WWII) that New Mexico lost more than 2,000 souls. To this day, the sacrifices of New Mexico’s fallen are honored during the annual spring Bataan Memorial Death March. The march is a 26.2 mile desert trek hosted by White Sands Missile Range, recalling the 60 mile march in brutal conditions that 75,000 US troops were forced to make while under Japanese control during the war.

We had a far less solemn experience while staying in Tularosa to visit White Sands National Monument, as do most visitors.  It’s clear just how much impact the White Sands Missile Range has on area residents, as the status of missile testing is part of the morning traffic reports (testing can result in road closures in the area). The facility is a key component to the local economy, as is New Mexico State University.

As we planned to arrive at White Sands for late afternoon in order to take advantage of softer light for photos, we started out the day targeting a little local country store reported to have elk hot dogs and a dog friendly patio. I popped in when we first arrived to check that it was ok to have Caira and Mike hang out on the patio and was actually told Caira was allowed inside. One look at their narrow aisles and quirky goods told me that was not the best idea. We broke the news to her gently and received an understanding look in reply…it was just nice to be wanted, she seemed to say.

We alternated quickly perusing the store’s wares and waiting with the pup on the patio. One of us is better at following the rules and the other was gently chastised (cough, Mike!) for wandering beyond the “public” grounds. He likes to play with the boundaries of socially acceptable behavior from time to time.  We split a couple of elk hot dogs topped with hot peppers for lunch, then headed out toward White Sands NM.  

As with all of our National Park experiences, the ranger who reviewed our pass at the gate gave us a map for orientation, wished us a good time, and reminded us of their leash law. We knew the drill by now! 

Passing kids with their parents and sleds climbing dunes of pure white gypsum, we looked for a quiet area to pull off and begin exploring. Caira and Mike had some serious fun on the dunes, but what we couldn’t get over was how vast the area actually was – approximately 224 square miles. Fun fact: Hollywood has filmed more than 20 major movies there since 1950. There are lots of directions in which to wander, ranger led walks, and a boardwalk displaying information about the wildlife in the area. We stayed until just past sunset, then beat it back toward our campground in Tularosa.


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