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  • Writer's pictureBlaine Hoppenrath

White Sands

When the researching and planing it done and the pack is full of trail food and water is when the anticipation really starts to get me excited. When I am driving to the trailhead and can see glimpses of my immanent future I know that the next few hours of my day are going to fulfill me. There is a point on the drive to White Sands National Monument where I drive over the mountain pass between the San Andres Mountains to the north and the Organ Mountains to the south where I just know that I am on the cusp of the sand dunes of white sands. The west side of the pass opens into a valley that extends for miles until colliding with the Sacramento Mountains. The view is spectacular and adventure awaits.

About thirty minutes later the sand dunes grow out of the ground to hover the north side of the freeway. They aren’t the pure white yet and spotted with desert vegetation and for a brief moment I wonder if I am going to be sightly disappointed in the journey I have just embarked on.

Soon enough I find myself passing through the entrance gate where I pay my fee and drive to the trailhead. The sand dunes gradually become larger and the the vegetation lessens. The paved road turns to compacted sand that has been plowed like snow and the trailhead can’t come soon enough. The dunes become a pure white and I know that all of my excitement and anticipation was worth it.

I finally get to the trailhead and it seems as if it took an hour to get from the gate to the trailhead, when in reality it was about 15 minutes. I park, grab my pack, and start walking. I start wondering up the first dune and while my caves burn, my bare feet feel at home in the cool, damp sand. At the top of the first dune the view opens up to dune after dune after dune for what seems to be miles, until the San Andres mountains rise in the background and I fill with joy.

My instinct is to start wondering and while I wonder a little of the trail I make sure that I keep the bright orange trail markers in sight so I don’t get lost or turned around. I descend down the first dune and gravity does all of the work for me. I will soon learn that hiking down the dunes is more like gliding and it such a freeing feeling.

I climb and descend over and over again for two and a half miles where I end up at the Alkali Salt Flat. It is as expansive and it is desolate. It is where the the white gypsum sand originates and the wind presses against my face. I stand there and take the moment in. That once again my own to feet have taken me somewhere spectacular.

Even though I can’t see anyone else I know that there are children having the time of their lives sledding down the dunes closer to the road, and parents are setting out picnics for the family in the 1950s picnic shelters. There are couple strolling the boardwalk and rangers preparing for a sunset stroll with guests. I already long to spend the night in the park in the only backcountry campsite in the park.

As I return to the trailhead I savor every footstep. Every dune continues to amaze me, every view is better than the next. The sky remains mostly cloudy and the navy blue of the sky is a stark contrast to the white sand. There is vegetation which has adapted to live in the pristine but nutrient lacking landscape and it clings to life as the wind moves the sand around its roots. It is life where a human could not survive but the opportunity to visit and let nature allow me experience it is more than I can ask for.

I know that the dunes are constantly changing, and the dunes I see now may be similar to the ones I see if I come back in camp, but they will actually be completely different. It’s not like any other trail because everyday the wind carries the sand, moving the dunes. Its wild to think that wind will carry tiny grains of sand and actually shift the dune and change it completely. I know as I return to the trailhead that the planning was worth it and that real life was better than the pictures scattered online. The trail is about as perfect as nature can get and the five miles spent in the sand become a memory that I will cherish and long for as I go on with my day to day life.

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