We wake to an alarm I set for 5:30. Sherman looks at me like something is wrong. It’s not even light yet! He curls back up and ignores me moving about. I want to get to the White Sands National Monument to do a 5 mile long loop trail in the dunes before it gets hot. The gates open at 7am. We’re about 10th in line when we arrive.
The gates open and we drive into the park.
A sign says: “Like a mirage, dazzling white sand dunes shimmer in the tucked-away Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico. They shift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert, covering 275 square miles — the larges gypsum dunefield in the world. White Sands National Monument preserves more than half of this oasis, its shallow water supply, and the plants and animals living here.”
The first mile or so is paved and the dunes are a light tan color and covered with straggly plants. I’m not impressed. The pavement ends and we drive on compacted white sand. The dunes are mostly devoid of plants and the color is lightening. As we go further into the dune field the sand gets whiter and barren. We get to the parking area for the Alkali Flat Trail.
The brochure says: “The Alkali Flat Trail is a strenuous, 5-mile round trip hike. Follow the red trail markers with a diamond symbol. The Alkali Flat Trail skirts the edge of what is now the final remnant of Lake Otero. This trail is not flat! You will be hiking up and down dunes the entire way. Go only if you are prepared. There is no shade, no water, and no toilet facility along this trail. The average completion time is three hours.”
Sherman and I set out about 7:45 with water and snacks. It’s still cool. I have on my ultralight down jacket. Sherman is on a 15 foot, light weight leash. My solution in areas where he’s got to be on a leash and I want him to have some freedom of movement. He’s excited! To him, this is a HUGE beach.
We go over the first dune and BAM! This is what I expected.
Rolling white waves as far as I can see. Stunningly barren.


There’s a sign that says (I’m paraphrasing), “Don’t be cocky. This is a dangerous place. If you can’t see the next orange marker that shows the trail ahead, DO NOT CONTINUE. Turn around and save your life. DO NOT count on following yours or anothers footprints. The wind can erase them quickly.”
We go over the next couple dunes and I totally get that sign. There are NO visual markers that would tell you what direction you are going or where you came from.
Sherman is in beach mode. He’s running and running and running. In circles and back and forth. Dancing with me in the sand. He’s got a big grin on his face.
A landscape not defined by color. Here it’s light, shadow and texture.


These areas with heavy texture are the places where the lose sand has been blown away.





Love these lines between the pattern on the top of a dune and the smooth downhill face.
Wind blown sand piling up against a lone tree.

The sand is quiet firm in many places and then I take a step and my foot sinks 3 inches. Going downhill it can sink 6-8 inches. There are areas between some dune ranges where the wind has blown the sand away down to hard compacted ground. It seems to be the same material as the sand, but is hard and very slightly damp.





In about an hour we reach the dry Lake Otero. All of a sudden the dunes end and it’s flat white sand. In the distance is a complex of some kind. There’s a military base close by, so may be that? Or scientific? Curious…
We hike in lake for a couple minutes then I see that the trail is going to take a sharp right turn back into the dunes. I can see a half dozen marker down the turned direction, so we head off across the dune foothills toward the markers. About half way there we merge with one other set of footprints and walk together into the full sized dunes again and the trail markers.
Making his mark on a group of three hard sand stools carved by the wind.
I sit down and dump the sand from my shoes. Sherman watches me do things like this in a way that seems like a questioning of the purpose. His shoes are just fine.


This image looks 3D. Like a ridge line. However it’s flat. With the textures giving the illusion of depth.
Closeup
Looks like it belongs in The UFO Museum.

Another solitary tree. See the animal shelter dug in the sand under it?

There is a heavy trail of footprints that actually goes from marker to marker. And there are lighter trails going off in other directions as people explore higher dunes or fantastically shaped ones. And there is an occasional single track that goes off and loops back to the trail. I soon learn that it’s much more fun, and easier to walk, by not following the heavy footpath. The sand with so many footfalls has the surface tension totally disturbed and is softer, meaning the foot sinks further. So, when I can see the markers ahead, I make my own way in that direction following dune boundaries, edges, low areas… whatever seems the magical path.

About this time, we are both tired from all the dune walking. We’re about 3 miles in — 2 to go. Sherman’s no longer running around at all. He’s just waking along with me. Up and down we go.
The light and shadows are stunning. The textures in mid-morning light are getting easier to see. I love it!


There have been naked footprints from the beginning. My shoes helped hold me higher in the sand, so I kept them on, but I’ve been hearing my feet asking to touch the sand. The request has gotten louder and louder. We’re at about 4 miles, I take off my shoes to finish off barefoot.

We finish about 10:30am. What an amazing hike! It’s only about 75 air temp, but the sun on the expansive cool white sand is reflecting very warm. We both have some water and head out of the park. I think of stopping at a picnic spot to have a late breakfast bofore heading to Elephant Lake. I check out two of them and don’t like how they’re setup, so we drive on.
We skirt Las Cruces and head north on I-25 toward Truth or Consequences.
From Wikipedia: “Originally named Hot Springs, the city changed its name to “Truth or Consequences”, the title of a popular NBC Radio program. In March 1950, Ralph Edwards, the host of the radio quiz show Truth or Consequences, announced that he would air the program on its 10th anniversary from the first town that renamed itself after the show; Hot Springs won the honor, officially changing its name on March 31, 1950 (the program broadcast from there the following evening, April 1st). Edwards visited the town during the first weekend of May for the next 50 years. This event was called “Fiesta” and included a beauty contest, a parade, and a stage show. The city still celebrates Fiesta each year during the first weekend of May. The parade generally features area celebrities such as the Hatch Chile Queen. Fiesta also features a dance in Ralph Edwards Park.”
People are so odd…
We get to Elephant Butte State Park about 4:30 and the non-electrical spots are full. However at this park you can stay down by the lake. A ranger tells me to stay on the roads (compressed sand with some gravel), the sand is quiet soft in areas off the roads. On the way down I see about a dozen cement 3-sided 10×10 structures facing the lake. These look very cool! I drive down toward the beach. Well, I see lots of cars, trucks, RVs off the roads so I head to a place I like the feel of and promptly get stuck in the sand! It takes me about an hour to dig my way out 6 inches at a time to get back to a “road”. I find a place to park for the night. We go for a walk along the beach, hang out in the shade thrown by the van, eat, and get in the van.
Elephant Butte Lake
As I’m laying there I realize I don’t like it here if we have to stay on the sand. I’m gonna get up about 7 and head up to the road with the cement haciendas. If one is open, we’ll stay a couple days. If not, we’ll move on tomorrow. With that the mind quiets and sleep arises…