me in White Sands National Park, New Mexico

New Mexico, USA

Guidelines for domestic travel as it relates to camping and parks:

“Going camping at a time when much of the United States is experiencing community spread of COVID-19 can pose a risk to “Going camping at a time when much of the United States is experiencing community spread of COVID-19 can pose a risk to you if you come in close contact with others or share public facilities (like restrooms or picnic areas) at campsites or along the trails. Exposure may be especially unsafe if you are more likely to get very ill from COVID-19 and are planning to be in remote areas, without easy access to medical care. Also be aware that many local, state, and national public parks have been temporarily closed due to COVID-19.” -CDC

Please read all of CDC’s park and rec guidelines for travel here.

It has been over a month since I was in New Mexico. I am currently about to land in Iceland. My entire 2018 American Road Trip ended about ten days ago. After New Mexico I spent about 2 weeks in Texas. I went north to Oklahoma and through Arkansas to Mississippi and stay in the Smokey’s in Tennessee. Remember… I already completed the entire east coast prior to this trip multiple times.

Essentially I stopped writing and documenting as the trip was wrapping up- I spent time with friends, family, and even an ex. With a flight booked to Europe for the Christmas markets I spent any free time figuring out my plans there. I wouldn’t have much time between arriving home and taking off again- just enough time to unpack and re-pack and visit with friends back home.

Las Cruces, New Mexico

I went to New Mexico in search of gypsum sands. After dropping off my dad, I drove straight to Las Cruces from the Phoenix airport. It was bittersweet dropping him off but I realized the day I picked him up that my solo journey had ended. At this point, I was going to have New Mexico to myself, then be with company in Texas- in each city: Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. Then I would have a few days alone in the mountains before actually getting back to Maryland.

The 2 days I had in New Mexico were spent at the White Sands National Monument. I had to pass through border patrol to get to the national park. Hesitantly, I continued down the road crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t need a passport to return. I loved the dunes, the white sand was stunning… and endless. I had the whole place to myself. There were at max, maybe 4 families in total at the park that day. The weather was perfect. I drove the route through the monument grounds and was looking for a place less traveled.

White Sands National Monument, err… Park.

Although there were not many people this particular day, there were many footprints and many sled tracks from previous visits. I found a deserted spot with shorter dunes- they’re known to be less frequented. I parked my car and began walking. Every time I’d stop to photograph the landscape I’d look a bit farther and think I saw a better spot. This kept happening- just a little further… ‘Oh! Look over there’… etc. Until eventually I didn’t know where I came in. I didn’t know where the road was so I just stayed put and took many many pictures. They say when you are lost to stay put; I was hoping a car would drive by and I could find the road by sound.

soap yucca in New Mexico's White Sand National Park.

Getting Lost in the Dunes

At this point, I wasn’t scared. I had music and my camera and all the sand in the world. My phone had service and battery at the top of a dune but GPS was not updating. The only thing I didn’t have was water. Unlike most deserts the sand here is gypsum and cool even when the sun is beating on it. I loved it there. However, I knew I needed to get back to my car.

lost and defeated, alone, in White Sands National Park. New Mexico.

There are warnings in the pamphlet to bring water- there is not water stations in the park. I had walked far and it was hot out even if the sand was not. This wasn’t my plan when I parked. There was a full yeti in my car with cold water. I had not imagined how far I was going to walk, I only stopped to grab a quick picture. With no sound of a car I started heading back following my footprints. I was wearing converse and I matched my size to the converse prints in the sand. Confident in this strategy, I back tracked.

White Sands National Monument/Park, New Mexico.

Lake Lucero, New Mexico

They were not my footprints. The strangers footprints did lead me to the road- just not to where my car was parked. I ended up walking 0.5 miles on the roadway in the direction I believed my car would be. These dunes and landscape are truly endless and can definitely turn you around. Luckily, my intuition was right and I found my car. From here I took off to see more. I stopped at Lake Lucero, an ephemeral lake that still had water. It seemed out of place in this desert. Of course this lake was in the perfect location. In fact, only inches below the surface of the dunes lies water holding the dunes in place as the wind moves the mounds.

my car, hidden in White Sands National Park. New Mexico

The shallow lakes like the one I visited forms crystals that break down into tinier particles that become the gypsum salt. It’s fascinating to learn how this place became what it is today. It’s even more fascinating to know it started from melting glaciers from the nearby mountains. White Sands National Monument (circa 2018)…now Park, is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world! The park protect more than half of the total land but the white sands expand to 275 square miles. I learned a lot about the ecosystem from the many signs in the Lake Lucero loop and decided I would try and make it back for the return of the cranes.

Lake Lucero, New Mexico
Lake Lucero's shallow pools in New Mexico- White Sands National Park.

Not my kind of city

Once I arrived back to Las Cruces my stomach decided we’d rather have a decent taco meal instead- it was Tuesday and I couldn’t have been close to the Mexican border. My plans were dinner and a movie. This is when I realized I was overcharged to stay in a bad city. The tacos at the best rated Mexican restaurant were disgusting and the service was shit. After that unnecessarily long experience I went to the theatre. I don’t even remember the movies that were playing. The parking lot was empty- but it was a week day so I thought nothing of it. I hid belongings in my car since my plates were out of state and went to the ticket booth.

The guy at the counter told me the heater was broken so the theatre is less than 40 degrees F. Then he proceeded to charge full price and let me know they will be working on it while I was inside.  This was not my day. Coming back to town was the worst decision I could’ve made. I should have stayed to watch the sky change colors as the sun set over the sand dunes in the National Park. Oh well… I was looking forward to leaving bright and early the next day.

Next time I will rent, or bring a sled, and camp in Alamogordo. If you’re planning your own trip to the dunes, click here for up-to-the-minute updates. There is a military missile range in proximity which regularly closes the park for testing.

Back on the road, next stop: San Antonio.

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