Camping and Photography in White Sands National Monument
I truly believe one of the most underrated landscapes in the entire Southwest United States is the White Sands National Monument just outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico. When you think of the Southwest, you think of places like the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Death Valley, Arches National Park, etc. But I highly encourage you to make the stop in White Sands, and if you have the time, consider camping in the beautiful white gypsum sand dunes.
These dunes are the largest gypsum dunes in the world. There are plenty of trails to hike, marked by reflective posts at the top of the dunes. Being a photographer, I wanted to be able to capture the beauty of this place at the best time and with the best light, which is sunrise and sunset. There is only one way to accomplish this; camping inside the monument itself.
The gates close from 9pm- 7am. This gives you little time (even in winter) to hike in and shoot sunset/sunrise and get out before the gates close. You also need to call a few days ahead of time to see if the monument is closed due to missile testing. (which happens occasionally)
There are 10 camp spots available, and its a first come-first served system. The visitors' center opens at 9am, where you can go in and reserve your permit/site. They recommend if you have a large party to call ahead for campsites. Its is $5 USD for the park entrance and $3 USD for the camping permit.
The nearest campsite takes approximately 25 minutes to walk to, while the furthest sites take about 45 minutes. I highly recommend the furthest one, sites 5, 6, and 7. I had campsite 4 (5,6 and 7 were taken). The give you the best access to footprint-free dunes.
Photographing dunes was a bit harder than I expected, because they are just chaotic, visually. First, you're going to have to walk out a ways to get dunes that have little to no footprints. I recommend using a GPS to mark your camp, as well as download Google Maps offline. There is a great app called MAPS.ME that you can also download offline maps from. I had cell signal for the most part the entire trip. (Verizon)
The sunsets are spectacular, as well as the night sky. It gets surprisingly cold in winter though. I was there at the end of December, and the water froze in the bladder of my backpack! I guessed it to be around 20-25 degrees F. It was 30 degrees F when I got back to my car at 9am. Remember to bring lots of water!
Like I said in the beginning, this place is highly underrated and absolutely stunning! Also, check out my YouTube channel for the video of White Sands and subscribe for many more trips, tutorials and gear reviews! Follow me on Instagram!