White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. Desert terrains often have an other-worldly character to them, but White Sands in southern New Mexico is in a class of it’s own. Ever-moving dunes of pure gypsum sand cover an ancient lake bed for some 275 square miles of desert basin. And these dunes are white as snow. Impossibly white. The snow comparison is an unserving understatement. But what’s whiter than snow? Light and spirit. And the spiritual is what comes to mind watching the sunset over the San Andres Mountains, the last rays of which cast a pink hue to the silky rolling dunes spread out in all directions. A Sahara for the soul, there is an energy here that lies just out of reach, tempting visitors to venture further into the sandy abyss, and luring them to come back.
This is what happened to me. I first visited White Sands in 2006 with my father on the drive west that brought me to California in the first place. I have wanted to return ever since. To walk barefoot on these cotton dunes, and to take the time of day there to simply breath. To be. And also, as a naturalist, to hopefully observe some it’s unique and cryptic desert fauna. But even the best laid plans can falter.
Boca and I had intended to camp at White Sands National Monument, and actually sleep on the dunes themselves beneath a starry desert sky. The night prior we explored a prehistoric forest where dinosaurs once roamed, the rocky remains of the Petrified Forest National Park strewn haphazardly across the Painted Desert.
After overnighting in a small town called Eagar in Arizona’s White Mountains, we decided to drive south through Gila National Forest. And this was our mistake. The roads were narrow, winding, and poorly marked. We took a wrong turn and ended up on a half day detour, lost amongst the high altitude pine lands of Apache National Forest.
We didn’t make it to White Sands until just before sunset. We were refused a camping permit. We were too late. But we were also right on time. In time for what nature had intended all along. A spectacular light show for our benefit. Alone and desperately tiny on the mammoth dunescape, we witnessed our solar system’s fiery center dip beneath jagged dry hills, casting a Santa Fe water color mural across the sky and dunes.
Here’s a few photographic remnants of what we saw. The top photo, taken by Boca, is a postcard made with the new Gogobot iphone app. Gogobot CEO Travis Katz liked it so much, he shared it on Facebook. Enjoy what we saw. But what we felt can only be experienced firsthand.