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