What do most people think of when they think of New Mexico? It’s always interesting to hear the opinions and, sometimes, misconceptions of the people I meet across the country.
I’ll admit, when we moved to New Mexico in 1982 I thought my mother had lost her mind and moved us to the surface of the moon. New Mexico is….different. I don’t mean that in a negative way. While the state has its challenges, just like every other state, the fact that New Mexico is different is what makes it special and there is no other place to notice the different than in the land itself.
Most people don’t realize that New Mexico contains such a wide and varied landscape. I suspect most people think of the desert when they think of New Mexico and we’ve got desert – plenty of high desert to be precise – but we also have prairies, buttes and mesas, red rocks, canyons, and mountains. New Mexico mountains are the southern end of the Rockies, you know. The sunsets in this state will blow your mind…
We’ve also got sand and rocks. Hear me out.
Last week in Southern New Mexico, I visited one National Monument where I’ve been many times before and one state park that I’d never visited. Sand and rocks.
Sand comes in the form of white gypsum at the stunning White Sands National Monument located just outside of Alamogordo. As the website claims, there really is no other place like it on Earth.
White Sands is a gypsum dunefield. Gypsum is a fine, white sand and that sand has been deposited in the Tularosa Basin over hundreds of years to form what is now the national monument. I’m no geologist so if you’re interested in actual detail of the formation of these sand dunes, check out the White Sands National Monument website.
The dunes encompass some 275 square miles and the monument preserves the majority of those dunes. You may have seen sand dunes before. The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is beautiful, but it isn’t White Sands. As the name indicates, part of what makes White Sands so stunningly beautiful is that the sands are white – duh.
You need sunglasses while visiting – believe me. The New Mexico sun bouncing off the bright white sand is akin to being out on a snow covered mountain in the sun. You can’t squint enough so break out the giant shades before you start rolling into the park. (And water. Please take water with you.)
You can drive through the park and take in the beauty from the car, but if you really want to experience the monument you need to park the car, get out and climb a dune (yes, really!). It’s the only way to experience the magnificence of this place and it’s a great quad workout. Stand a top a dune and take it all in. Sit or lie down in the sand. It’s like the best beach in the world (minus the water). Bring a sled (or rent one at the visitor center) and hike up a dune and slide down. I had fond memories of sledding here as a kid. A friend and I visited White Sands a couple of years ago and we brought our sleds. You don’t go as fast once your butt has reached adult-sized proportions and it’s a little scary staring down the side of a dune, but we sledded any way and laughed our adult rumps off in the process. On this visit I saw an older couple with sleds, sliding slowly down a shorter dune with huge grins on their faces. That’s what it’s about. Get the sled – you won’t regret it. (There is an entrance fee of $20 a car. Or, do as I tell you and get a National Parks Pass already).
In the southwestern corner of the state, nestled between Deming and Bayard lies a little state park called The City of Rocks.
My colleague and I decided to stop on a whim after some meetings. I had heard about this place from a friend of mine who has family in the area. “Stop there,” she says. “It’s really beautiful.” Really? Rocks, beautiful?
She’s right. As you drive into this park you see….nothing. Nothing at all until you come to a small vista at the entrance of the park and then you’re pretty blown away.
The City of Rocks is just that. An outcropping of volcanic rocks standing high in an otherwise flat portion of New Mexico land. (Again, not a geologist so check out the website for in depth rock information). There is a $5.00 day pass fee here or you can camp at the site for the incredibly reasonable amount of $14.00 a day.
We took a spin through the visitors’ center and then headed out to hike among the giant rocks. You can’t really get lost as the rocks are all centered in a small area, but you can run into rattlesnakes in this area so be aware. As most places in New Mexico, please take a hat, some sunglasses and water. (I can’t tell you how many people I encounter hiking in the desert without water. Get a backpack and take it with you. Every time).
Rocks. Beautiful rocks.