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White Sands National Monument’s programs offer intimate experience

Helen Proctor holds a full moon at White Sands National Monument, N.M. A schedule of the park’s several full moon programs can be found on the National Park Service’s website. Photo by Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle.

Helen Proctor holds a full moon at White Sands National Monument, N.M. A schedule of the park’s several full moon programs can be found on the National Park Service’s website. Photo by Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle.

By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions, bringing in more than 600,000 visitors each year from around the world. Lucky locals, however, can do what far away visitors cannot – visit often. With a healthy list of Interpretive Programs, those living within driving distance can become intimately acquainted with the uniqueness this National Monument has to offer.

Described as being “like no place else on Earth,” the monument is in the center of the Tularosa Basin, surrounded by the San Andres Mountains and is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, making it the biggest white-sand dune area on earth. It is one of the world’s great natural wonders.

It’s a very easy 90-minute drive from Fort Bliss to White Sands, New Mexico – a ride on U.S. 54 east toward Alamogordo, New Mexico, with only one left turn onto U.S. 70 west.

What keeps locals coming back time and time again to White Sands is its stunning beauty and serenity. It’s so peaceful and quiet like being in the middle of nowhere, but inviting and fun like being at the beach. The white sands resemble snow, giving the park an ethereal feel and attracting couples who spend the day strolling the dunes and picnicking, families who play and sled on the dunes and photographers who come to catch the sunset and glistening white sands.

The allure of WSNM has staying power not only because of its uniqueness, but because of the full schedule of interpretive programs, many of which add a new dimension to the park.

Running from May through October are the monthly full moon hikes and full moon nights. These events are scheduled a day apart every month.

The full moon hikes, the first of which was May 2, requires registration and has a fee of $8 per person for anyone 16 and older, and $4 for 15 years old and younger. There is a 40-person limit and registration is open during a two week period prior to the hike. This is a mile and a half hike under the full moon guided by a park ranger through the white dunes. Visit www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/full-moon-hikes.htm.

The full moon nights program includes a variety of events and activities to take place under the full moon within the park. May 3 kicked off the first installment of the program with the Sante Fe and El Paso Youth Symphony Orchestras performing classical music surrounded by stunning white dunes. There are no reservations required for this program and visitors are encouraged to bring beach chairs, blankets, food and drink with them to the show. Visit www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/full-moon-nights.htm.

Full moon bike rides are offered only twice a year and require the same fee as the full moon hikes with registration opening up a month prior to the event. The bike ride through the park is very popular and sells out quickly. The next semi-annual bike ride is scheduled for Sept. 25, with registration beginning Aug. 25. Visit www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/bicycling.htm.

The park also offers free, nightly sunset strolls guided by a park ranger. Only park entry fees apply. Another popular program is the semi-annual Sunrise Photography event and since the park doesn’t open daily until after sunrise, this is a privileged opportunity.

For those wanting to camp out under the stars, individuals can register at any time to camp in White Sand’s designated camping area for the night. This presents a great opportunity for nature lovers and photographers, as the park offers some of New Mexico’s darkest night skies for views of the stars. It’s also a great way to shoot the sunrise for photographers, which is a rare treat. Registration must be made in person at the visitor center at the WSNM entrance. There are only 10 spaces available per night for camping after the park closes, but the extra effort to secure a spot is worth it.

The park’s entrance fees are $3 per person (free for those 15 and under) good for seven days of receipt, and if you have a valid military identification card, admission is free. At the entrance booth you can get your national parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, which allows for free admission to all national parks, monuments and federal lands.

While more than half a million tourists every year visit WSNM, those living within the region have a greater opportunity to experience the park in a way up close and personal as most never will. The park offers some amazing programs year round.

For a complete list of White Sand National Monument’s Interpretive Programs, visitnps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/interpretive-programs-white-sands.htm.

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