Reminiscent of the Sahara Desert and located right in the United States, the White Sands National Park is nestled into New Mexico on U.S. Route 70. With an average elevation of 4,000 feet in the Tularosa Basin, the park is famously known for its field of white sand dunes and gypsum crystals. The park encompasses 145,762 acres that protect the dunefields and the White Sands Missile Range.
Designated the White Sands National Monument in 1933 by President Hoover, it wasn’t re-designated as a national park until Congress passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act in 2019.
Fun fact: gypsum dunefield is the largest crystal dunefield on Earth.
The inhabitants of the Tularose Basin included Native Americans for thousands of years. When Spanish settlers arrived in the 1800s, they stared to build farms, ranches, and mines, driving out the previous inhabitants.
Upon their arrival, they began to discover there is more than meets the eye in the arid New Mexico landscape. Today the park is home to more than 600 invertebrates, 300 plants, 250 birds, 50 mammals, 30 reptiles, and 7 amphibians. There is even one fish that calls the park home. The White Sands National Park is the most visited site in New Mexico, boasting 600,000 or more visitors per year.
Thanks to the scorching hot temperatures, most of the animals in the park have developed coping mechanisms – namely being nocturnal. They are able to survive with very little groundwater.
White Sands National Park’s Top Animals
- Bleached earless lizards
- Sand-treader camel crickets
- Sand wolf spiders
- Kangaroo bats
- White Sands pupfish
- The only fish endemic to the Tularose Basin, the White Sands pupfish has dark eyes, silver scales, and is miniscule. It has adapted to the scorching hot desert temperatures.
- Great Plains toad
- This toad is able to store more water in their urinary glands than any other toad species. Due to this water retention, they can survive with less water access than normal amphibians.
Dunes Life Nature Trail: Hike this trail at dusk to watch the local mammals come to life out of their burrows. Listen to their calls as they soak in the night sky.
Interdune Boardwalk: This family friendly boardwalk is an easy way to see wildlife in the early morning or evening hours.
Alkali Flat Trail: Where you go to get that incredible shot of nothing but white sand and horizon, check for insect movement along the sand during the morning and evening hours.
When Should You Go?
It’s no secret that temperatures can get scorching hot in White Sands National Park. Therefore, plan to visit the park from September to May, or in the early morning or evening hours. For your best shot at seeing wildlife, 5-6AM and 9-11PM are the best windows to catch their movement.