The Magical Landscape of White Sands National Monument: A Photo Journal (New Mexico, USA)

The Magical Landscape of White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, USA

This year Ian and I checked a HUGE item off our bucket list. We can both now officially say we’ve visited all 50 U.S. states. (Hooray!)

We’ve explored a LOT of the U.S. this year — even amplifying our goals to include visiting all 50 states in one year’s time — and every time I tell people about our epic quest, I always get asked some version of the same question: Which place was your favorite?

Well, if you limit me to a certain number, I’ll have trouble answering, but White Sands National Monument is absolutely 100% somewhere on my list of favorites. (Funny, because our visit there was completely unplanned.) And while I could go on and on about how amazingly surreal and magical the scenery is there, I think the photos will give you a better idea. So I’ll let the scenic photos do most of the talking…

sunset at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Pretty amazing, right?

It certainly made all the stressing over getting there worth it!

Gambling on a Permit

It was getting late in the afternoon, and we hadn’t planned where we’d stay that night. Cell service was absolute crap. With plans to head south the next day toward Big Bend National Park, White Sands — situated 50 miles east of Las Cruces, NM — was a good deal out of the way. And the only camping available in the park is extremely limited and first-come first-served.

So of course we went for it. Twenty minutes into the drive, as we were passing our only other camping opportunity along the route, we finally got a cell signal and called White Sands. There were two permits left!

Thirty minutes later, we literally ran into the visitor center and were overjoyed to discover we were in! We got the last permit to camp on the dunes that night. (A huge relief because otherwise we’d have had to drive back toward Las Cruces with shitty cell service and fingers crossed for camping availability elsewhere or an affordable hotel in Las Cruces.)

But it wasn’t quite time to relax yet.

Now racing the setting sun, we quickly stuffed our overnight necessities into our backpacks and hit the dunes.  

And then we were off! It was time to finally take in the amazing views… while keeping up a decent pace to get to our campsite quickly. Thankfully these dunes aren’t very steep!

sunset at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

couple's shadow at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Alas, we reached our assigned backcountry campsite before the sun set (finding it in the dark would have been next to impossible).

We even had time for some fun red dress shots before the sun had completely set. (More from this American flag photo series on Stylish Travel Girl, my women’s travel blog.)

White Sands National Monument at sunset

As it got dark, we set up camp and contemplated cooking dinner.

And then the stars came out.

That night we endured about two hours of high winds, half collapsing our tent and blowing sand into just about every nook and cranny. But the dark skies were pretty fantastic.

Diana Southern and Ian Norman Milky Way at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

View more photos from White Sands and other destinations during this week of our road trip here.

Milky Way at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

camping under the Milky Way at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Distracted by the stars, we complete forgot to eat dinner that night. And with several hours’ worth of astrophotography, we got only a few hours of shut-eye.

But somehow, not too tired, we woke at sunrise and packed up quickly for a cool trek back to the car.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

The cold sand and bright white morning scenery made for a memorable hike back (which some people choose to do barefoot, as you’ll notice in the tracks above).

All in all, despite treacherous winds, unavoidable sand, lack of planning, and failure to remember to eat dinner, we had an absolutely AMAZING hiking and camping experience at White Sands National Monument!

Have you ever hiked White Sands or other dunes? What are your most memorable hiking experiences? Let us know in the comments below!

All photos were taken by Ian and Diana with the Sony a7 II (Ian’s camera), Sony RX100 III (Diana’s camera — review here) and our smartphones.

About the Author

Diana Southern
In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

6 Responses

  1. Mani @ A New Life Wandering December 30, 2015 / 10:33 am

    Stunning photos. I have never been to any deserts/dunes, it’s something I’d love to check out.

    • Diana Southern December 30, 2015 / 11:46 am

      Thanks, Mani! I highly recommend hiking dunes at least once in your life! Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is another great option, and you can rent a sandboard nearby if you’re the sporty type. 🙂

  2. Anne December 30, 2015 / 7:36 pm

    Wow, you two! Congrats for hitting up all 50 states!! And what a beautiful write up with pics… definitely have to make it here sometime! But I’ll bring a tarp for the wind 😉

    • Diana Southern January 3, 2016 / 11:02 pm

      Thanks, Anne! And yes — be sure to bring along any wind gear you have!

  3. Georg Himmeroeder December 31, 2015 / 12:07 pm

    To bad! I did read this to late. I am living just a few miles away from White Sands in Alamogordo and began just studying you Milkyway tutorials.
    Would have been great meeting you.

    safe journey

    Georg

    • Diana Southern January 3, 2016 / 11:04 pm

      That’s a bummer that we missed you, but lucky you! What a COOL place to live near!!! I bet you have all sorts of neat photos from this place.

      Perhaps our paths will cross elsewhere on one of our various Milky way excursions in the future. Thanks for following our blogs, Georg!

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