Selenite crystals at White Sands National Monument

White Sands is a 275-square-mile gypsum dune field in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico. White Sands National Monument contains most of that dune field but not all. As long as the wind still blows, this will be an active dune field with some dunes moving as much as 30 feet in a year. Plants that survive here have learned to adapt to that, some of them by quickly extending their trunks so that their leaves always remain above the sands.

From the Visitor Center, an eight-mile (one way) scenic roadway leads into the heart of the White Sands dune field. Near the end of that drive you'll find the Heart of the Sands Nature Center. However, the Nature Center is only open on an irregular schedule because of National Parks staffing issues. The Visitor Center and several of the picnic tables and toilets located along the Dune Drive are universally accessible. There is also a 600-yard long Interdune Boardwalk that allows universal access to the top of one of the dunes.

Once a month, rangers offer a guided tour of Lake Lucero, a dry lake-bed located about 25 miles west of the White Sands National Monument main entry gate. The Lake Lucero tours take three hours and offer a chance to see how the gypsum dunes came about. Reservations are required and the tours cost $3 per adult, $1.50 per child. It's a 17-mile trip (one way) from the highway to the Lake Lucero trailhead and about 3/4 of a mile hike from the trailhead to the playa. The driving route is across the missile range where cameras are forbidden to be used, but camera use is encouraged once you are back on National Park Service property again.

White Sands National Monument Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day of the year with extended hours in the busier summer months (except when the property is closed because of a missile test at the nearby White Sands Missile Range). Folks are usually allowed to enter the property by 7 am but must be outside the gates again by one hour after sunset. The entrance fee is $3 per person (age 16 and up), good for seven days from date of purchase.

Glass bottles and kegs of beer are not allowed at White Sands National Monument at any time but all alcohol is banned from the property in February, March, April and May.