Do you know about the wonderful Interpretive Programs offered by White Sands National Monument? Sunset strolls, camping under the stars after the park closes, full moon orchestras amongst the gypsum dunes... they're amazing! Even if you're not a local, you can plan your trip to coincide with one of the fascinating events at White Sands that really gives you an intimate experience at the park. Can you imagine snacking on a blanket surrounded by white dunes and serenaded by a classical orchestra? My travel article this week explores the many unique options at White Sands.... they're amazing! Here's a link to the online version of my article in the Fort Bliss Bugle.
White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions bringing in more than 600,000 visitors each year from around the world. Lucky locals, however, can do what far away visitors cannot; visit often. With a healthy list of Interpretive Programs, those living within driving distance can become intimately acquainted with all the uniqueness this National Monument has to offer.
Described as being “like no place else on Earth,” White Sands National Monument is in the center of the Tularosa Basin, surrounded by the San Andres Mountains and is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, making it the biggest white-sand dune area on earth. White Sands is, therefore, one of the world’s great natural wonders.
It’s a very easy 90-minute drive from Fort Bliss to White Sands, New Mexico – a ride on US-54 East toward Alamogordo, New Mexico, with only one left turn onto US-70 West.
What keeps locals coming back time and time again to White Sands is its stunning beauty and serenity. It’s so peaceful and quiet like being in the middle of nowhere, but inviting and fun like being at the beach. The White Sands resemble snow giving the park an ethereal feel, attracting couples who spend the day strolling the dunes and picnicking, families who play and sled on the dunes, and photographers who come to catch the sunset and glistening white sands.
The allure of White Sands National Monument has staying power not only because of its uniqueness, but because of the full schedule of Interpretive Programs, many of which add a new dimension to the park.
Running from May through October are the monthly 2015 Full Moon Hikes and Full Moon Nights. These events are scheduled a day apart every month.
The Full Moon Hikes, the first of which was May 2nd, requires registration and has a fee of $8 per person for anyone 16 and older, and $4 for 15 years old and younger. There is a 40 person limit and registration is open during a two week period prior to the hike. This is a mile and a half hike under the full moon guided by a park ranger through the white dunes. More information on this event can be found at http://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/full-moon-hikes.htm
The Full Moon Nights program includes a variety of events and activities to take place under the full moon within the park. May 3rd kicked off the first installment of the program with the Sante Fe and El Paso Youth Symphony Orchestras performing classical music surrounded by stunning white dunes. There are no reservations required for this program and visitors are encouraged to bring beach chairs, blankets, food and drink with them to the show. To learn more about this monthly program, visit http://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/full-moon-nights.htm
Full Moon Bike Rides are offered only twice a year and require the same fee as the Full Moon Hikes with registration opening up a month prior to the event. The bike ride through the park is very popular and sells out quickly. The next semi-annual bike ride is scheduled for Friday, September 25, 2015 with registration opening at 8:00 a.m. on August 25th. For more information on this event, visit the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/bicycling.htm
The park also offers free, nightly sunset strolls guided by a park ranger. Only park entry fees apply. Another popular program is the semi-annual Sunrise Photography event and since the park doesn’t open daily until after sunrise, this is a privileged opportunity.
For those wanting to camp out under the stars, individuals can register at any time to camp in White Sand’s designated camping area for the night. This presents a great opportunity for nature lovers and photographers, as the park offers some of New Mexico’s darkest night skies for views of the stars. It’s also a great way to shoot the sunrise for photographers, which is a rare treat. Registration must be made in person at the Visitor Center at the White Sands National Monument entrance. There are only 10 spaces available per night for camping after the park closes, but the extra effort to secure a spot is worth it.
The park’s entrance fees are $3 per person (free for those 15 and under) good for seven days of receipt, and if you have a valid Military I.D. card, admission is free. At the entrance booth you can get your National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, which allows for free admission to any and all National Parks, Monuments and Federal Lands in the United States. Quite a deal!
While more than half a million tourists every year have the privilege of visiting White Sands National Monument, those living within the region have a greater opportunity to experience the park in a way up close and personal as most never will. The park offers some amazing programs year round.
For a complete list of White Sand National Monument’s Interpretive Programs, visit the parks website at http://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/interpretive-programs-white-sands.htm for full details.