New Mexico's Strange, Snowy Sands

See the New Mexico Desert That Looks Like Another Planet

White Sands
••• As you walk across New Mexico's White Sands, you might feel as if you're traipsing through Siberia. Jeff Kubina via Wikimedia Commons

If you actually pay a visit to White Sands or, more simply, look at an unedited photo of them, they don't look like snow, but there's no denying their stark whiteness. A combination of natural factors has resulted in this rare phenomenon.The first reason the sands of White Sands are white is due to their mineral composition: They are heavily made up of gypsum, which has a natural white color.

Gypsum sand is extremely rare, however, since the mineral dissolves easily in water.

White Sands' unique geography—the basin that surrounds it prevents any rain that falls here from making its way to the ocean—keeps concentrations of gypsum within the basin high, leading to the brilliant white color you see, and sand that's cool to the touch even in the heat of the day (more on that in a second!).

Things to Do at White Sands

Even if you don't have a music video to film, there are a wide variety of ways to enjoy White Sands. Besides hiking and trekking through the dunes, you can also go on a Dune Drive using your own vehicle, from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Additionally, during the summer months, the park plays host to classical music concerts under the stars each Full Moon night, though it's unclear if "Water Runs Dry" is ever one of the songs played.

How to Get to White Sands

White Sands is located approximately an hour by car from Las Cruces, New Mexico, which sits at the confluence of Interstates 10 and 25.

Travel east from Las Cruces on US-70 W and follow the signs. The nearest major metropolitan area to White Sands is El Paso, which is about 90 minutes south via US-54 W.

White Sands is also easy to visit from more popular destinations in New Mexico, such as Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. In fact, since one of the routes from Santa Fe down to Taos passes through picturesque Ruidoso, it's possible to make a trip to White Sands into a very satisfying road trip.

Another spot near White Sands you can't miss is Cloudcroft, which has a real "Old West" feel and also allows you to get a wide view of White Sands from thousands of feet above it.

When to Visit White Sands

White Sands National Monument is open year round, and although the region can get extremely hot in the summer, the sands white color keeps it surprisingly cool to the touch, which makes nearly every day a perfect day to visit. Morning and evenings are particularly great for photography, however, as the often dramatic sunrise and sunset colors reflect in the sand, with glorious visual effect.

Plus, although the sand might be cool under the hot summer sun, White Sands is still a desert, and staying outside for too long with these temperates could have adverse effects on your health—be prudent.

You should also keep in mind that the park occasionally closes due to missile tests from the nearby missile range. Consult the park's official "Closures" page before you visit to make sure your first trip to White Sands isn't your last!