We landed in El Paso, Texas on Thursday morning – and within the hour we were in New Mexico, on the road to White Sands National Monument. But before experiencing the dunes we checked into our hotel, the economical and conveniently located Magnuson Hotel in Alamogordo.
By now we were into the afternoon hours, and though we were anxious to get to the dunes, we stopped for a bite to eat at a local Mexican restaurant, La Hacienda (recommended by the kind lady at the front desk). This was our first encounter with “guacamole salad” – which we continued to see on menus throughout the rest of our trip. Guacamole salad is quite simply guacamole served on a bed of lettuce and served with chips. The house salsa was quite good – and we also shared a shrimp cocktail, which was served with generous slices of ripe avocado. Can never have too much avocado in my book! Of course as Hal says: “The tale of a good Mexican restaurant is always told in its salsa,” which was also delicious.
Now with some proper nourishment, we ventured off to the dunes, about 20-30 minutes down the main highway. We purchased a couple of plastic discs in the gift shop – for sand sledding. We also decided we would be visiting our National Parks often enough in the next year to warrant purchasing an annual pass.
The sand dunes were stunning, emanating and reflecting a beautiful aura all around. Everything looked glorious in the afternoon light; it was everything we expected and so much more. The wind picked up quite significantly that afternoon to the point where we could see the “dust” of the sands swarming above the surface of each dune and moving the sand along the earth in beautiful ripples.
Of course, we did not hesitate to bring out the cameras (we made many photos of our surroundings), trying to capture its essence – the dunes, the light, the beautiful yucca that were in bloom everywhere … and, well yes, … each other.
Night fell as we migrated back to Alamogordo. We drove around the quiet town for a bit before finding ourselves at Caliche’s for frozen custard. What a treat! I had a Caliche’s hot fudge sundae – two scoops of creamy frozen custard, hot fudge sauce, and perfectly toasted chopped almonds. Hal went for the frozen custard, two scoops, straight up – topped with peanuts – and extra peanuts. So good!
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: El Paso is less than 2 hours from L.A., and we got a steal of deal on Southwest just by departing on Thursday (more days the better!). After that it’s only a 90 min. drive north to Alamogordo, your jumping off point to the dunes and eerily fascinating White Sands Missile Range. You can also descend from the north by flying into Albuquerque.
WHERE TO STAY: We read the book on this one and stayed at the well-recommended Magnuson Hotel in Alamogordo. Clean, spacious rooms with free (full) breakfast and wifi – plus, super friendly staff and a pool. Minimum (and probably more) requirements met! Camping is also available within the park, but nights get cool, even in summer.
WHAT TO DO: Head for the hills, and we do mean rolling hills of pristine, snow-drifted dune fields. Located 15 miles west of Alamogordo on Hwy 70 (or east of Las Cruces about 50 miles), White Sands National Monument Visitor Center offers everything you need to indulge in a day or two of natural discovery, including maps, displays, nature hikes and a robust gift shop, which sells disc-shaped dune sleds (be sure to pass on or recycle back to the shop). The park is nestled in a unique basin below the San Andreas Mountains and near the world-famous White Sands Missile Range, not to mention the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Plan on no less than three days to explore the region.
WHEN TO GO: Spring and fall are probably the best times to visit, book-ending the hot and cold seasons of Southwestern New Mexico. Even if it’s summer don’t worry much about burning your feet: gypsum sand retains very little of the sun’s thermal energy. Just be sure to bring plenty of water and keep an eye on the tall poles positioned strategically throughout the dunes for safe navigation.