We visited White Sands during an unusual time after torrential rains. The roads had flooded part way in, making road access to the Alkali Flat Trail non-existent, though one could always hike to it. The brochure described the area as a "dry lake bed", but we saw it filled with rainwater, and abandoned landscapes with picnic tables submerged in water reflecting the sky made for surreal art. At night, the sunset reflected in the wet sands, blazing a deep red tone to the land, matching the sky in its brilliance. I am sure no other visit will ever be like our first.
We arrived close to evening, and had time to do a short walk on the interdune boardwalk before we hung out with the rangers to watch the fighters (F-117As) fly over and the sun set over the wet desert. The trail is an easy walk along an elevated boardwalk that goes into the desert area from the parking lot and the return is the way you came in.
Some of the nice things about the trail is that you can see plant life, including wild flowers, and we also saw animal tracks. There were frequent interpretive signs located near benches along the way and it was a good trail to get oriented with the life and the geology of the park. The trail is also accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. It ends at the top of a dune where you can see over the other side. It was a nice start to the visit.
Alkali Flat Trail
This trail has bright orange wands to follow. I can't really say this is what we did. The road washed out so we walked towards the trail, got sidetracked, refocused and continued, got sidetracked, and continued at this pace until the sun started to descend and we decided we should head back. This was one of the most awesome things we have ever done.
There were a few things that caught our attention early in the hike. First was the dunes. Oh a dune - let's check it out. If you get to the top, I bet you a quarter you will probably see another dune. Maybe a dozen more. The novelty did not wear thin. We tried to slide down the dune. This works well on Cape Cod. It does not work here. This was wet and crunchy. Boooo. We saw someone else try this later. It did not work for them either. In both cases, for to five uncomfortable and slow feet are achieved.
The next distraction were the fighters flying over us. They came in three sets of three. Sometimes high, sometimes really low. This was much better than UFOs in my opinion. We waved during a low fly by and a pilot tipped his wing to me. That was the best. We then found bullet holes in the sand. It made us glad that the pilots knew we were there. We kept our bright shirts on. We are used to hiking during hunting season, but this was kind of different.
The most unique distraction was the submerged signs of civilization completely abandoned in the middle of the desert. Picnic tables under roofs surrounded by water and endless sand and no road in sight. It was straight out of Planet of the Apes or something along that line.
The final thing that got me were the little details of the desert. I liked the simple things like finding a plant that drew a line in the sand with its leaf with the help of the wind. Another thing was seeing a tuft of grass appearing in the middle of what seems like miles of sand in every direction. Whether you stick to the trail, or simply go to the trail head and take a look around, I am sure you will find the area a real treat. If you do continue down the trail, remember to sign in at the trail head and sign out when you leave for reasons of safety. Happy trails!