This post is part of a series on The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip, our 10-month, 15,000-mile tour of the top pet friendly attraction in each of the lower 48 states.
The name “White Sands” may be misleading, but that doesn’t make New Mexico’s top pet friendly attraction any less impressive! These shimmering dunes are actually made of gypsum – not sand – and thanks to an ancient sea and some very fortunate geography, this is now the largest gypsum dunefield in the world.
Millions of years ago most of the southwestern United States, including parts of what is now New Mexico, was covered by the Permian Sea. It retreated and left behind deep layers of gypsum, the white powdery substance we use to make drywall for our homes. Later, tectonic plates shifted and the mountains rose, carrying the gypsum deposits to higher elevations. In the upheaval, the Earth’s crust was split, great faults were formed – the Tularosa Basin, where White Sands is located, was created.
What makes this area unique is that there is no water outlet … the only natural water escape is through evaporation. Gypsum is a common mineral that dissolves easily in water, so in most places rainfall and snowmelt carry it through streams and rivers to the ocean. But here gypsum from the mountains washed down to the valley, the water evaporates, the gypsum crystalizes, the crystals break down until they’re the size of grains of sand, and then they blow into massive, brilliant white dunes that now cover 275 square miles.
Pets at White Sands
Of course we wouldn’t be here if White Sands weren’t pet friendly, but this park goes above and beyond when it comes to welcoming pets. Leashed pets are invited to explore the entire park with you, except inside the buildings. Even horses are welcome here!
Leashed pets are welcome to explore the dunes, hike the trails, and join you at the picnic areas. Pets are not allowed in the buildings.
Pets must be cleaned up after and should not be disruptive.
Leashes must not be longer than 6-feet.
Visitors with horses are required to check in at the entrance station to receive a horse permit and instructions on where riding is allowed.
Horses must be picked up after and are not permitted in the monument during missile tests.
Be sure to pack plenty of water for you and your pets. The combination of the dry desert air and high elevation can lead to dehydration if you’re not cautious. The only place to fill water bottles is at the visitors center, which is a bit of a drive from the picnic area or hiking trails.
White Sands Trails
You can have plenty of fun at White Sands without ever leaving sight of your car. The Playa Trail, Dune Life Nature Trail, and Interdune Boardwalk all have interesting exhibits about the geography and plant and animal life. Or you can bring a sled (or pick one up in the visitors center) and scoot down the dunes that way. But if you want to experience the full effect of the dunefield, plan to hike the Alkali Flat Trail. Once again the name is deceiving – this trail is not flat. It’s a 5-mile loop that runs up and over dunes the entire way, which can make the hiking very strenuous.
The trail is marked with red posts, and it’s important to always stay in sight of the markers. Once you’re away from other landmarks, the dunes all begin to look the same and it would be easy to get lost. Don’t rely on your footprints, because they’ll disappear quickly if a light breeze picks up.
Stay For Sunset
My best advice for visiting White Sands is to pack your dinner picnic stay for sunset. The dunes can be blinding on a sunny day, but at sunset the sky explodes in a confetti of colors and the gypsum practically glows.
Just after the sun drops behind the San Andres Mountains, be sure to turn around and enjoy “second sunset” as the sunlight reflects off the Sacramento Mountains to the east.
Plan Your Visit
White Sands National Monument is located near the White Sands Missile Range, and the park and Highway 70 are occasionally closed during missile tests. For missile-related closures you can call the national monument at 575-479-6124, or visit their website.
Where to Stay
There are several pet friendly hotels and campgrounds in Alamogordo (16 miles northeast of the monument) to choose from, but we opted for a broader selection of pet friendly options in Las Cruces (52 miles southwest of the monument). Our favorite area RV park is Hacienda – it’s convenient, well-maintained, the staff is friendly, and it’s walking distance to the dog friendly patio and superb pizza and pasta at Luna Rossa Winery and Pizzeria!
Visiting these attractions with Ty and Buster is a dream come true. We’ll be blogging about each one as we go along, so fasten your seatbelt and stay tuned!
The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip wouldn’t be possible without the support of our wonderful sponsors: Winnebago, 2 Hounds Design, Alcott, goDog®, PetGuide.com, Red Roof Inns, Sleepypod, The Bark, PetHub, RVPetSafety.com, and The Honest Kitchen. Please be sure to visit their websites and social media pages and thank them for their participation!