You’ll get sand everywhere.
For all of eternity.
It’s worth it.
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Our trip started with speeding ticket. Out in the middle of seemingly nowhere when I was legit trying to follow the speed limit. Somehow, I missed a sign. Herc was NOT pleased with the cop approaching my window. All sorts of ferocious woofs and growls coming from the peanut gallery: "Who the heck do you think you are trying to give things to my mom?! Did I say you could approach the vehicle?? Scram! Skedaddle!"
Beyond that little incident and the fact the Cool Whip was appalled that she had to carry a pack, we had a wonderful adventure. White Sands National Monument is a beautiful dog friendly area to explore.
White Sands Monument is just outside Alamogordo and the Holloman Air Force Base. It is about six hours from Phoenix. I considered adding Organ Mountains to our trip, but I opted for City of Rocks State Park. But whether you add more pit stops or not, this unique desert spot is worth the trip.
The dunes are made of white gypsum, a fair bit different from the classic brown sand of say Great Sand Dunes National Park. Sunrise and sunset are particularly good times to see the dune as they take on the colors of the sky.
Activities at White Sands include the following and more:
Check the Weather... and the Missile Launches
Visiting White Sands in February treated us to minimal people and great weather. But, like planning a backpacking trip at Petrified Forest National Park, you’ll want to keep an eye on wind speed and temperature. There will almost always be wind. 10-15 mph is normal, but use caution when speeds hit 25 mph or greater.
The temperature at White Sands can also get a little extreme. Summer temps average 95 during the day and 55 at night. Winter cools down to 60 as a high and lows down to 23.
And yes, be sure to check for any planned missile range testing. White Sands National Monument is surrounded by White Sands Missile Range. Missile range tests occur about twice a week. The monument and part of highway US 70 may be closed for an hour or two during this time.
Reservations, Permits, and Cost
Camping at White Sands requires a permit. You cannot make a reservation or acquire a permit for a White Sands backcountry campsite until the morning of your overnight adventure. Verify hours of operation before you plan to arrive, then stop at the Visitor Center to obtain your permit.
Rangers assign the 10 available camping spots on a first-come-first-served basis. Camping fees are $3.00 per person aged 16+ and $1.50 for those 15 and younger. You’ll pay this fee AND the general entrance fee (waived if you have the national park pass) at the fee station.
You must leave your site by 1:00 pm the next day and you must request a new permit in person if you wish to stay another night.
Poop: Your Dog and YOU
Yep, you gotta scoop ALL the poop. Always practice Leave No Trace principle. Check with a park ranger at the Visitor Center for a Wag Bag if you didn’t bring your own waste disposal container. Or, as one crafty ranger recommended to me, you can use the bags they provide at the pest waste stations around the park (one of which happens to be located right in front of the visitor center). These pet waste bags are quite large and sturdy, by poop bag standards, not skimpy ones that tear if you pick up more than one poop nugget.
The Backcountry Camping Trail
You checked the weather, acquired a permit, loaded up on poop bags, took one last potty break at the toilets by the trailhead parking lot, and now you’re ready to head out on your adventure—woohoo!
The backcountry camping trail is a 2-mile lollipop loop that goes up, over, down, and around many dunes. With the ever-changing nature of the dunes, there is no regular trail on the ground you’ll follow. Instead, you follow orange trail markers staked into the ground.
Once you reach your first marker on the trail, do not continue moving forward until you see the next marker. Continue this way for the remainder of the backcountry trail. Remember, you’re in a giant sandbox with no other landmarks to guide you, so it’s easy to become disoriented and lose track of your direction.
As you’re cruising along the trail, you’ll eventually see the campsites noted on the trail markers. Each campsite is in an open valley among the dunes. Once you find your campsite number on a trail marker, look for another marker at the base of the dunes. This is where you’ll set up camp, keeping your tent within five feet of that stake on the valley floor.
Camping with Dogs
ALWAYS keep your dog leashed while visiting White Sand National Monument, even at the backcountry site. There are plenty of lizards and other animals about that you don’t want your dog to disturb, plus you need to be able to find their poop to pack it out.
What to bring:
Now get on out there and have some fun!