White Sands NM: Alkali Flat Trail

The above shots were taken in December, 2003 at the White Sands National Monument, which is located between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, NM.

Driving along the road into the heart of the dunes is certainly an interesting experience. It's somewhat reminiscent of Ice Station Zebra, but with sand instead of snow.

I decided to take the Alkali Flat trail, which is a 4.6 mile loop through the dunes. I saw people at the beginning of the trail and at the end, but in the vast middle section I only saw one other person briefly off in the distance. At least I think it was someone else.

The Alkali Flats trail isn't really a trail, just a series of posts with red tops, designed to help you avoid walking in circles. That would certainly be somewhat easy to do, given the fact that the area is flat and, unless you took your bearings using the mountain ranges available on either side (as I did), you might easily get lost. If you were to get lost out here, in addition to just walking in circles, you'd also need to worry about walking in a straight line and never seeing that the road was this way or that.

After about three miles of the trail, I was really getting tired of it. The monotony of going up one dune and down the next and between the next was the worst part of the hike. But, then again it was also the best part of the hike. After a couple hours of doing this, it became a bit - pardon me - zen-like. Or something mystical like that.

There are things to see along the way, such as the "pedestal" in the last photo. That's about 20' high, and sheltered inside a depression created by a dune. There are also the crusts like that shown in the second photo. And, if I had done this at the start or end of the day or at night, I probably would have seen a few animals, however small.

Unlike any other hike I've taken on this trip, this hike had no goal to get to. There's nothing at the farthest point of the loop except an alkali flat. No mountain summit here. Just one flat area or sand dune after another.

At the beginning of the hike I kick-stepped and switch-backed up a few sand dunes. I soon got tired of that, as there were many sand dunes ahead, and I certainly couldn't expend the energy necessary to go up and down each one. Instead I began following the markers and adjusting to the monotony.



United States
32° 43' 30" N, 105° 55' 15.996" W
June 4, 2011 – 2:29pm