Hiking at White Sands National Monument

Will Brown heads up a dune during a hike on the Alkali Flat Trail at White Sands National Monument, N.M., Nov. 24. Photos by Wendy Brown / USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs.

Will Brown heads up a dune during a hike on the Alkali Flat Trail at White Sands National Monument, N.M., Nov. 24. Photos by Wendy Brown / USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs.

By Wendy Brown, USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs:

(El Paso, Texas, Dec. 7, 2017)

WHITE SANDS NATIONAL MONUMENT, N.M. – The list of safety precautions for hiking at White Sands National Monument is long, and one of them is not to start a hike if the temperature is above 85 degrees.

With daytime temperatures averaging 60 degrees from December to February and 75 degrees from March to May, this time of year is a great time to go for a hike at the monument. It is important, however, to check the weather for rain and snow through February and be on the lookout for windstorms in the spring.

A sign at the beginning of the Alkali Flat Trail at White Sands National Monument, N.M., provides safety precautions. Be sure to follow them.

There are five trails at the monument: the less than half-mile Interdune Boardwalk that is fully accessible for people using wheelchairs and strollers; the easy, half-mile Playa Trail that includes exhibits about the trail; the one-mile Dune Life Nature Trail, which is a moderate, self-guided hike; the two-mile Backcountry Camping Trail that takes people through the heart of the dunes; and the strenuous five-mile Alkali Flat Trail that goes way out through the dunes in a loop.

My two sons and I set out on the Alkali Flat Trail on Nov. 24, and although it was only about 75 degrees out, the sun reflecting off the white sands made it seem hotter. I was glad we had brought plenty of water, even if it was only a five-mile hike. Being used to hiking in places with trees, about a mile out I began to fully realize the significance of the complete lack of shade.

There is a sign at the trailhead that details safety precautions before beginning the trail, and it highlights the need to take water and a cell phone. Hikers find their way along the trail by following markers that stick out of the sand, and the sign also warns not to proceed if the next marker is not visible.

We had no problem following the markers, but I could see where the situation could get dicey during a spring windstorm.

The trail goes up and down the dunes, and I felt the upward climbs in my calf muscles the next day, but it was definitely fun heading down the slopes.

Nate Brown takes a moment to empty his sneakers of sand during a hike on the Alkali Flat Trail at White Sands National Monument, N.M., Nov. 24.

The best part of the hike for me, however, was the landscape and the way the sands absorbed sounds to mute them in a way I’d never heard before. On a cooler day, the hike would have been a completely relaxing excursion away from the cares of the world.

The trail’s sign said the hike takes about three hours, and we found it accurate. We finished in about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

The temperatures from June through August average 95 degrees in the daytime and can reach as high as 110 degrees, according to the monument’s website. Safety concerns aside, I can’t imagine enjoying the hike during the summer months.

The monument, located near Holloman Air Force Base and Alamogordo, N.M., is about an hour and a half drive from Fort Bliss.

For general information about the monument, visit https://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm. For information about hiking, visit https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/trails.htm. And for monument weather information, visit https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/weather.htm.