Hi there everyone! Johnny Roadtrip here, journeying through the desert southwest this season and I’m pleased to be sharing the adventure with all of YOU. Join me over the next four weeks as we venture to places just within cell service and far beyond, while hopefully sparking some ideas for your next outing!
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. At a nominal area of 275 square miles and only 40-60 feet high, they’re not the largest or the tallest sand dunes you’ll find by any means, but there’s something special about the place. This isn’t a case of bigger is better, but rather, different being better.
Because the dunes are made of gypsum instead your usual quartz-based sand, they are host to different plants, different wildlife, and different weather. Gypsum doesn’t hold heat very well, meaning you can even run around barefoot in the middle of summer!
Want to find a different experience in the area? Try spending the night in one of their ten primitive backcountry campsites, nestled among the dunes. White Sands isn’t like other parks where visitors can come and go at all hours. This place is unique because the gates close at dusk, meaning you and your fellow campers are the only people around for miles! So pack your bag and get ready for an overnight desert experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Without a doubt this was a must-do overnight trip while in the area, so early that morning I made sure to be one of the first people in line at the visitor center. With a site reserved I made my way back into town to do a bit of work and avoid the peak of the midday heat. What a great idea…if you were sure the weather wouldn’t change.
Dark clouds had been hanging over the adjacent San Andres mountains all day, so I figured they would simply make for cooler conditions. It hardly rains in the desert at all, right? Well, I seem to have a certain kind of “luck” when it comes to long odds like that. Leaving the trailhead and making my way out into the minimally marked dunefield, I only had to cover a mile or so to get out to my site.
No more than a minute into the hike those clouds made their move, creeping out over the dunefield led by winds that I would not call gentle. As you would guess, the obvious choice was to push on. Stepping up the pace, so did the wind…and the rain.
Tucking the camera inside my rain jacket, I cinched down the hood and braced against the gusts, charging forward across the densely packed gypsum sand. While it didn’t last forever, the brief storm definitely tested my resolve that there was a good night to be had on the other side of those clouds.
Between pulses of rain, I setup my tent in record time. It felt soo good to take shelter and lay down for a minute. In the time it took to brew up a hot drink the rain subsided, encouraging me to venture out into the dunes (with GPS) for a pleasant sunset. That evening you could still stargaze through the spotty cloud cover, it’s underbelly illuminated by multiple nearby towns and air force bases.
An evening of sound sleep followed another short but enjoyable night time stroll through the dunes. Waking to the first light of dawn as it crept into the sky, I made my way to the top of the nearest dune and stumbled upon a double rainbow, both ends touching down over the dunes!I couldn’t have made up an ending like that if I tried.
Hiking out with morning coffee in hand, I reveled in what a treat it was to see White Sands under atypical conditions. I could have had an uneventful evening of predictable camping activities, but the fact that things turned out different than planned made the experience even better. Enduring the slight inconveniences thrown my way, nature’s reward was that incredible sunrise, a night sky full of stars, and a chance to see the park a different way than most.
Skies can only be so blue and the sun can only shine so bright. So instead of trying to refine the same approach to things, let’s celebrate these opportunities to experience life from a different perspective and enjoy our own interpretation of it all.
Johnny Roadtrip aka John Lloyd is a road tripping, desert loving, outdoor photographer based in Boulder, Colorado. With a camera and a cup of coffee, John loves to explore the magic and wonder of the desert southwest, bringing back images and stories to inspire others to get out and create their own adventures.
Follow along on the journey on Instagram @johnnyroadtrip.