The stark beauty of shifting white sands and shadowy dunes makes White Sands National Monument an unforgettable southwestern destination. Gleaming white gypsum sands stretch across this scenic corner of New Mexico, drawing photographers, filmmakers, artists, and nature lovers. And with a host of other attractions right nearby, this makes the perfect center for your New Mexican adventure.
Begin your trip in the quiet town of Alamogordo, set on NM highway 54. The Chihuahuan Desert ranges through this area from White Sands at the north, into Mexico to the south. The echoes of Old Mexico are everywhere here from the adobe houses to the colorful festivals and blended language. From Alamogordo, you can travel to the southwest through White Sands National Monument, taking in the stunning white dunes of the Tularosa Basin. Covering more than 275 square miles, these dunes are constantly shifting with the desert winds. If photography is your passion, visit the dunes during early morning and evening, when the setting sun casts dramatic shadows across the landscape.
From White Sands, Highway 70 will take you to the nearby city of Las Cruces, a popular place for outdoor sports like golf, tennis, hiking, and fishing. Las Cruces has spectacular views of the Organ Mountains and Rio Grande River as well as special festivals, shopping, and the zesty flavors of Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking. This New Mexico city is home to the War Eagles Air Museum, fabulous wineries, farmer’s markets, and unique craft fairs. Head there for incredible get-togethers like the September Whole Enchilada Festival, the November Mariachi Festival, or the January Mesilla Valley Balloon Rally when hot-air balloons fill the blue desert sky. Las Cruces also offers the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and historic Fort Selden State Monument, a great place for a picnic lunch. Wine is an important part of this region’s culture and economy, where they celebrate wine festivals every year in April, May, September, and October.
Traveling south from Las Cruces along Interstate 10, you’ll pass Aquirre Springs National Recreation Area, a great place for hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, bird watching, and other sports. Farther south you’ll find the exotic border town of El Paso with its phenomenal restaurants, shopping, and sites. El Paso is a world unto itself, where cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats blend with Mexican bakeries and salsa dancing. From El Paso, it’s easy to take a short trip across the border into Juarez Mexico, or “Ciudad Juarez,” for south-of-the-boarder shopping and tourism.
East of El Paso along Interstate 62 (or Texas Highway 180) lies the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Set in a dramatic desert landscape, these caverns include the largest underground cave in the world. Be sure to plan a visit during dusk or dawn to see the amazing Bat Flight program when hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats fly through the aky. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the big cavern or follow a guide into Lechuguilla Cave, America’s deepest limestone cave (1,567 feet deep). Kids will enjoy the park’s five labs with their hands-on activities and exhibits.
If your travels take you back into New Mexico, be sure to stop at Elephant Butte Reservoir State Park for a day of swimming, boating, and fishing. For more adventures in West Texas, you can go gem hunting Rockhound State Park, set in the beautiful Florida Mountains.