The Complete Guide to White Sands National Park

The dramatic dunes become your personal sandbox here in southern New Mexico

The world’s largest gypsum dune field covers more than 275 square miles in southern New Mexico with White Sands National Park the centerpiece of this remarkable landscape. Great waves of white roll across the open plains of this 145,000-acre park with stark mountains rising in the distance.

In the morning light when shadows add dimension to the dunes it’s possible to lose your sense of perspective in the endless undulations. In the blinding midday sun when you’re sitting atop a 60-foot dune and the wind is howling you can feel as if you’re adrift on a great bleached sea, sand hitting your face like salt spray from the ocean.

It’s a magical environment and a true natural marvel. White Sands is also one of the newest parks in the National Park Service (NPS) having been elevated from a national monument in 2019. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sands form after the playa in the park’s western end which has a very high mineral content fills with water. When the water evaporates, the minerals form gypsum deposits that get carried away by the wind eventually forming white sand dunes not unlike an ocean breeze sculpting a beach. The park contains roughly 40 percent of the gypsum dune field; the remainder is on the adjacent White Sands Missile Range which the military controls and restricts to the public.

​This is the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert and the bare Sacramento Mountains rise dramatically above the Tularosa Basin. Far from being barren, however, the park is full of life. Even the sand itself is in constant flux with the massive dunes moving upward of 30 feet per year thanks to the winds that shape them.

The park is also home to a range of species including more than 250 birds, 50 mammals, 30 reptiles, and even one fish. At least 45 species are endemic to White Sands including the Apache pocket mouse and the bleached earless lizard. In summer, because of the heat, most of the animals are nocturnal but it’s possible to see the park come alive in the dawn light and just before sunset. Indeed, it’s often surprising just how full of life this pocket of the Chihuahuan Desert is.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Of course, the gypsum dunes are the main attraction and they provide dramatic photo opportunities especially during the golden hours just after sunrise and before sunset. March through June is peak season for the park’s nearly 800,000 annual visitors but even then it doesn’t feel crowded. Also, most visitors tend to stick to Dunes Drive, an 8-mile road through the park so you can easily avoid them by parking and hiking a trail.

​Since White Sands National Park is in a remote part of the state it takes more than a few hours behind the wheel to get there no matter where you’re coming from. But this part of the West seems designed for long drives that go by quickly thanks to the open landscapes. 

​The park usually closes at 8 p.m. in spring and summer (6 p.m. in winter) but during full-moon nights from May through October it stays open an extra few hours so visitors can enjoy the spectacle—and it is a spectacle. The full moon lights up the white sand which reflects the light into the night sky creating an almost spectral atmosphere. It’s an experience worth the extra effort and one you’ll not soon forget.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Plan your trip

El Paso, Texas is 98 miles south of White Sands National Park via Highway 70, the main road to the park. Albuquerque, New Mexico is 223 miles north. Either option is a good starting point for a road trip exploring southern New Mexico which could include stops in the towns of Las Cruces and Roswell and even a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park roughly 180 miles southeast of White Sands.

​In the summer, temperatures in this part of the Chihuahuan Desert can soar above 100 degrees, and in winter they can plummet below freezing. That’s why spring, early summer, and fall are the best times to visit with midday temperatures usually around 80 degrees and lows in the 50s. If you plan to hike bring layers of clothes for any temperature as conditions can shift dramatically.

​Restrooms and visitor facilities are limited. The park’s single entrance has a visitor’s center with a gift store that offers some basic food options (essentially a convenience store) but that’s the only place in the park offering services. In other words, bring plenty of water no matter what time of year you visit as well as snacks.

An even better idea: Pack a full picnic as there are three picnic areas with shaded tables (and nearby restrooms) inside the park. You’ll find restrooms at the visitor’s center and along Dunes Drive and one of the only handicap-accessible restrooms at Interdune Boardwalk right off the main road just before the pavement on Dunes Drive ends.

​There’s no Wi-Fi signal in White Sands National Park and very limited cell reception so plan to navigate the park using paper maps or those saved on your device. White Sands Missile Range is still an active military facility and one of the strange charms of visiting the area is having to wait on Highway 70 if a drill is being conducted in the area. The roadblocks rarely last more than an hour—though they can last up to three—but that can throw off the timing of a trip if, say, you’re planning to make it back to Las Cruces for dinner. (Check the park website for information on road closures.) 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​​Where to stay and eat

There are no hotels or campgrounds inside White Sands National Park. Even primitive backcountry camping is currently closed. You must stay in a nearby city or campground. (See gateway towns)

Things to do

Take a drive

White Sands is famous for its white sand so you must get out in it even if that means just cruising along Dunes Drive which begins at the park’s entrance. But even from a car, you can get a sense of this natural phenomenon’s uniqueness as the road curves through and around the dunes.

You feel as if you’re exploring a distant planet in a sci-fi movie. Although paved for a short distance most of the road is hard-packed sand because the dunes shift each year and the road must adjust accordingly. The park maintains it frequently enough, though, that a two-wheel drive will suffice. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Go hiking

Of course, hiking up the dunes themselves is the best way to feel what makes these white waves so special—the tiny gypsum grains underfoot. Of the park’s half-dozen trails, the easiest is the half-mile Interdune Boardwalk. This wheelchair-accessible trail on an elevated boardwalk makes its way through the interdune landscape where the desert and its limited vegetation meet the barren dunes.

​For something slightly more challenging hit the Dune Life Nature Trail, a 1-mile, self-guided loop through the desert. The hike which starts from the first parking area you pass after entering the park isn’t difficult but requires walking up two dunes with loose sand. The jaunt is an easy way to see the dunes in all their glory and maybe spot animal tracks such as those from a lizard or even a kit fox (however rare it may be).

​For something strenuous opt for the park’s longest hike, the Alkali Flat Trail which begins at the far end of Dunes Drive. This 5-mile round-trip hike leads you around Lake Otero where the gypsum sand begins its life. There’s no shade or water available on any of the park’s trails but it’s especially critical to bring some fluids along for this hike as you’ll be exposed to the heat for at least a few hours.

Despite the trail’s name, you’ll be climbing up and down dunes most of the way. The upside? You’ll probably be all alone. As you walk it’s likely the wind will quickly erase your footprints making the hike feel even more remote. 

​White Sands’ elevation is roughly 4,000 feet which you’ll notice when hiking over long distances or up the dunes. Bring plenty of water and dress in layers if you take a longer hike; the elevation means the temperature can shift dramatically over a few hours and dehydration can set in quickly in the heat of the day. Don’t start a hike if the temperature is already above 90 degrees. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Other activities

Biking is allowed on Dunes Drive and it’s a unique way to experience the park. Since much of the road is unpaved, however, it’s best not to ride a road bike with skinny tires. You’re better off with a mountain bike or beach cruiser with wide tires. Outdoors Adventures in Las Cruces rents a range of bikes including e-bikes with fatter tires (from $30 per day).

​You can even sled on the dunes. Buy plastic saucers in the park’s gift store then just find a good dune for some sliding-in-the-sand fun (and sand in your shoes to prove it). 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Gateway towns

Alamogordo, the nearest city to White Sands National Park is 17 miles northeast of the park. This town of 31,000 serves mainly as a civilian hub for White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base just a few miles outside of town. This part of New Mexico has a long military history with a special connection to the early space program and the dawn of the Atomic Age.

Learn more about that history at Alamogordo’s New Mexico Museum of Space History whose exterior resembles a NASA Vehicle Assembly Building. It’s an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution with exhibits encompassing a wide range of subjects from the early days of the U.S. space program including rockets, astronaut suits, and satellites.

An outdoor exhibit, the John P. Stapp Air & Space Park features many early space-flight vehicles including the Little Joe II rocket, a testing rocket for the Apollo program. Look for one of the museum’s highlights out front: the grave of Ham the Astrochimp, the first hominid launched into space, in 1961.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​One of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand is a destination that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo it’s an easy day trip from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park. The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.  There are numerous wineries and nut farms where you can enjoy delicious wine and nut tastings and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains.

The city’s lodging choices are basic including a Fairfield Inn and Suites and a Hampton Inn. Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, 15 miles south of town has 15 RV sites with water and electrical hookups and 24 other sites as well as restrooms with showers.

​Alamogordo’s dining options are similarly basic but still good. D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro, is a bar and grill serves steaks, pasta, and salads. Rizo’s Restaurant, a classic Mexican joint has excellent street tacos and larger burritos as well as a few non-Mexican options like a club sandwich. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​The significantly larger city of Las Cruces (population: 113,000), 52 miles southwest of the park has more to offer. In the historic Old Mesilla neighborhood once an Old West border town, Billy the Kid stood trial for murder. The neighborhood’s can’t-miss centerpiece is the Basilica of San Albino, an adobe cathedral finished in 1908. The area around the city brims with pecan orchards and wineries so you can easily spend more than a day here.  

A good lodging bet is the moderately priced, 200-room Hotel Encanto de las Cruces designed to feel like a Spanish colonial outpost with terra-cotta tiles, stucco arches, and a bubbling fountain in an indoor courtyard. Amenities include a pool, bar, and restaurant, as well as several wheelchair-accessible rooms.

We have visited Las Cruces on numerous occasions and hace stayed at Hacienda RV Rsort and Sunny Acres RV Park. I would recommend either for anyone wanting a long term stay or just an overnight or anything in between.​

The city’s dining scene tends towards Mexican as restaurants are apt to do in this part of the state. La Nueva Casita Café is an excellent choice for that cuisine. For something more upscale, with a farm-to-table vibe, try Willow + Blaine whose small but superb New American menu features items like a 6-ounce beef filet, confit duck leg. and beet gnocchi. After dinner, treat yourself at Caliche’s Frozen Custard; choose your flavor (chocolate or vanilla) then your topping, perhaps local salted pecans.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​​En route 

If you’re driving from Albuquerque (or the north more generally) stop at the Valley of Fires recreation area about 5 miles northwest of Carrizozo along U.S. Route 380. Here, when Little Black Peak erupted roughly 5,000 years ago a lava flow coursed through the valley creating a black strip on the landscape as the magma cooled.

​Also, consider an escorted visit to White Sands Missile Range to see the test site of the world’s first atomic bomb. This open house as the military calls it happens only twice a year usually on the first Saturday of April and the third Saturday of October so check the missile range’s website for information.

You won’t see much beyond an obelisk marking the spot where the bomb went off and some trinitite (sand melted from the extreme heat of the blast) that’s preserved under a large glass case but it’s worth it to say you set foot on ground where the Atomic Age dawned. You’ll also be able to say you ventured into the seldom-seen (at least by civilians) missile range.  

​If you’re coming from El Paso, a road trip loop makes for a good three- to five-day trek through New Mexico. Take Interstate 10 up to Las Cruces (46 miles) then U.S. Route 70 over to White Sands National Park (52 miles). You can spend a night in Las Cruces before Whites Sands then another night in Alamogordo. From there, head over to Carlsbad via Roswell (193 miles) where the aliens crash-landed in 1947. After spending the night in Carlsbad visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, another underrated gem in the National Park system. From there it’s only 149 miles back to El Paso. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Fact box

  • Location: Near Alamogordo, New Mexico
  • Total acres: More than 145,000 
  • Highest elevation: 4,116 feet above sea level
  • Lowest elevation: 3,887 feet above sea level
  • Miles of trails and how many: 9 miles across five trails
  • Main attraction: The gypsum sand dunes 
  • Cost: $25 per vehicle for a seven-day permit; $20 per year or $80 for a lifetime America the Beautiful Pass for people age 62-plus
  • Best way to see it: On foot, walking one of the many short trails through the dunes as the sun rises
  • When to go: Fall (September and October) or spring (March through early June) when the summer heat is not extreme and the nights are not below freezing as they can be in winter

Worth Pondering…

Life is not obvious here. It is implied, or twice removed, and must be read in signs or code. Ripple marks tell of the wind’s way with individual sand grains. Footprints, mounds, and burrows bespeak the presence of mice, pocket gophers, and foxes.

—Rose Houk and Michael Collier

Slow Travel Will Be Big in 2024: Here’s Where to Do It in your RV

It’s a mindset of going at your own pace and taking things in more like a local than a tourist. It’s about traveling mindfully rather than running through a checklist of must-sees and must-dos.
A new ranking from Travel Lemming named the best spots for travelers seeking a breather.

We’re moving on from the era of revenge travel when people were desperate to take trips to make up for lost time during the periods of lockdown at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study from Morning Consult, pent-up travel demand is now decreasing—meaning the trend of urgent vacations is over.

Travel Lemming, an online travel guide wants everyone to use this time to embrace a more relaxed approach to traveling in 2024.

The guide released its list of 50 best places to travel in 2024 with a focus on slow travel with a focus on small communities and less mass produced and high-volume travel experiences. The list prioritizes more remote destinations and hidden local gems.

The list is a mix of North American, South American, Asian, and European destinations including 12 American locations: Memphis, Tennessee; Kodiak, Alaska; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota; Vashon Island, Washington; Quincy, Massachusetts; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Bisbee, Arizona; Townsend, Tennessee; Klamath Falls, Oregon; Hoboken, New Jersey; and Jenner, California.

The lone Canadian destination is St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador.

Following are twelve of my favorite underrated travel destination for the RV travelers desiring immersive experiences over itineraries packed to the brim.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

2. Mount Dora, Florida

With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops. 

Learn more about Mount Dora: 11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just over 50 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis blends The Big Easy’s funky, artsy feel with the mellow, barefoot vibe you can find only in a tried-and-true coastal town. The beaches are dog-friendly, the blueways (water trails) are ready for exploring, and Old Town’s French Quarter appeal can’t be beaten.

Learn more about Bay St. Louis: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

4. Cottonwood, Arizona

Part river town, wine trail, and historic hub: Cottonwood offers a fun and lively scene that sets it apart from the arid desert to the south and the soaring mountains to the north. Although it might be best known as a gateway to the nearby red rocks of Sedona, Cottonwood has plenty of charms. They start with the quaint Old Town district and branch out to the banks of the lushly green Verde River and the nearby historic towns of Clarkdale and Jerome.

Learn more about Cottonwood: Best Things to Do in Charming Cottonwood, Arizona

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017 but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for fishing and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Learn more about Port A: Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

6. Borrego Springs, California

Smack in the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies the unpretentious town of Borrego Springs, population 3,429. It’s the only California town that is surrounded by a state park and that’s just one item on its list of bragging rights. It’s also an official International Dark Sky Community—the first in California—dedicated to protecting the night sky from light pollution.

Read more: Borrego Springs: Stars, Art and Citrus in a Laidback Desert Town

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama

Although many think of Florida when it comes to great beach towns, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach beg to differ. The coastal twins boast the same sparkling turquoise water, white-sand shores, and family-friendly fun. With miles of coastline and easy access, it’s clear why sunseekers love the area. 

Read more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

8. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Groups love the family-friendly attractions and mountain adventures in this bustling resort town. It’s also an entryway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a hiker’s paradise. Book a campsite to take in the scenery and plenty of fresh air. 

Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Las Cruces, New Mexico

Las Cruces, the second-largest city in New Mexico behind Albuquerque is home to just over 100,000 people thanks in part to hosting New Mexico State University. That gives the city a unique southwestern culture. However, the surrounding area offers numerous popular attractions all within easy driving distance. White Sands National Park is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.

Read more: Las Cruces: Outdoor Adventure & Rich History

10. Shipshewana, Indiana

The small town hosts some million visitors a year for its auctions, theater, history, more than 100 shops offering fine Amish woodwork and food, and twice-a-week Shipshewana Flea Market, the largest of its kind in the Midwest. To learn about Amish history, tour Menno-Hof. Through multi-image presentations, historical environments, and other displays, we traveled back 500 years to the origins of the Amish-Mennonite story.

Read more: Explore the Amish Heritage Trail

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Greenville, South Carolina

As the hub of South Carolina’s Upcountry region, Greenville has been finding its way onto many national Top Ten lists for its lively arts scene, modern downtown, and livability. Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls located in the heart of Falls Park. Liberty Bridge serves as Greenville’s signature postcard setting and downtown’s extensive collection of public artwork adds beauty and energy to its public spaces.  

12. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in and around La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, an artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, and browse through unique shops and art galleries.

Learn more about La Conner: La Conner: Charming, Picturesque & Quaint

Worth Pondering…

A happy life is not built up of tours abroad and pleasant holidays but of little clumps of violets noticed by the roadside, hidden away almost so that only those can see them who have God’s peace and love in their hearts; in one long continuous chain of little joys, little whispers from the spiritual world, and little gleams of sunshine on our daily work.

—Edward Wilson

Winter Isn’t For These Birds

Are you dreaming of a snowless destination for the winter?

Winter is for the birds. Do you find yourself repeating this throughout the snow-filled colder months? Or perhaps, some other version of this sentiment that isn’t exactly appropriate for publication?

Winter is a wonderful and beautiful time of year in Canada and the northern states but this season’s charms aren’t for everybody. Freezing temperatures, an abundance of snow, and icy conditions soon have many people dreaming of warmer climes. Many northerners like to temporarily trade in their winter gear for shorts and sandals with a winter getaway to a sunny destination. But this plan only provides some temporary relief until one needs to come back home to frigid reality.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One popular solution is to skip winter altogether by RVing to a warmer location until spring. People who follow this plan are often referred to as snowbirds. Many snowbirds migrate from the northern United States but numerous Canadian snowbirds also make the move. The word has been used in its popular context since the 1980s to mark the trend of retirees flocking south for the winter.

While this lifestyle has long been most suited to seniors, the increasing popularity of remote work options has opened up opportunities for people from all demographics to become snowbirds. They can be found all across the southern states but their most popular destinations are Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Southern California.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond these popular destinations, more and more snowbirds have been choosing other states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada. Generally, these states offer much milder winters than a snowbird’s home state allowing migrating active adults to avoid frigid temperatures and precipitation.

There are many reasons that people choose to travel to warmer locations for the winter. Personal preference is often a big factor but choosing to be snowbirds can significantly improve the quality of life for those with health conditions or mobility issues.

Corpus Christi sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many of us, things like shovelling snow, dealing with icy conditions, and freezing temperatures are simply some of the less enjoyable aspects of winter. These facets of winter living can keep a person housebound and isolated for those dealing with certain health conditions and/or mobility issues.

We know what snowbirds do best: RV south. There are tons of incredible destinations all over the U.S. that are sunny, beautiful, and certainly not frozen over in the winter. Here are some great destinations for northern snowbirds and why they’re so appealing.

Phoenix as seen from the Hole in the Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix, Arizona

Some reasons you’ll love Pheonix in the winter include the incredible hiking and biking, shopping and live music, time spent in the mountains, excellent opportunities to golf on beautiful courses, the gorgeous desert with blooming wildflowers, warm weather all year, and tons of fantastic RV parks. Phoenix has more than 300 days of sunshine each year and you will instantly forget that winter is ever a thing.

>> Get more tips for visiting Phoenix

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Visiting the desert in winter means idyllic weather. You can expect temperatures over 70 degrees so pack your warm-weather clothing. With its abundance of golf courses, spas, shopping, and upscale dining, Palm Springs is a fantastic option to wait out the colder months. The warm, desert heat is perfect for those looking to escape the snow and there are many luxury RV resorts full of amenities. If you’re looking for the perfect place to park your RV this winter, Palm Springs might be it.

>> Get more tips for visiting Palm Springs

Near Fort Myers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Myers, Florida

A snowbird’s destination list wouldn’t be complete without the Sunshine State. Just about anywhere in Florida could be considered a good destination for snowbirds, but some areas are more popular than others.

Fort Myers has various activities and experiences for all different interests. You can take a fishing charter out before sunrise and make it back in time to soak up the last of the afternoon rays on Estero Island. Spend your days traversing the shops and avenues or stay beachside with clear water views and seaside restaurants. There are plenty of museums for history buffs and national baseball tournaments for athletes and fans.

Texas State Aquarium at Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gulf Coast of Texas

If you have yet to consider the Texas Gulf Coast the ideal snowbird destination, you need to add it to your list. There is a 350-mile-long stretch of sandy beaches and unique places to visit along the whole thing. Kick your feet up and relax on South Padre Island, stroll along Galveston‘s seawall to its one-of-a-kind Pleasure Pier, or explore Corpus Christi‘s fascinating museums.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Texas Gulf Coast

Lesser know snowbird destinations

Increasingly, more and more RV travelers are seeking alternative snowbird destinations in their quest to escape the winter cold. If you’d love to spend some time in a milder climate or are just dreaming of new experiences and the usual hot spots don’t entice you, you might be intrigued by one of these six unexpected snowbird destinations.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Full of history, architecture, gardens, and art, Savannah, Georgia, is a fantastic place to spend the winter. Wander the historic squares and see the preserved buildings and cultivated gardens or explore the local restaurants and shops. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Signage near Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Vegas, Nevada

For those who love dining and nightlife, Las Vegas can’t be beaten. The temperature stays warm throughout winter and with endless restaurants, shows, and shopping options, there’s always plenty to do. Nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Lake Mead National Recreation Area provide hiking for outdoor enthusiasts. 

Golfing at Hurricane near St. George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. George, Utah

Think Utah winters are all about cold weather and snow-capped mountain peaks? Think again. The desert city of St. George in the southwestern corner of the state (aka Utah Dixie), is closer in climate (and distance) to Las Vegas than to the ski resorts in northern Utah. St. George has been a snowbird destination for decades but it’s becoming more popular as the city grows. And it’s not hard to see why: Sunny over 300 days a year on average with winter temperatures in the 50s and 60s and relatively little precipitation. Plus it’s close proximity to Zion National Park!

Main Street Downtown La Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces, New Mexico

While New Mexico might not immediately come to mind when you’re deciding where to spend the winter months, the southern part of the state has a lot to offer. With sweeping views of both the desert and rugged mountains and mild temperatures in the 50s and 60s, Las Cruces is an up-and-coming destination for snowbirds. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Las Cruces

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Florida isn’t the only state where snowbirds can relax on the beach. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, gives visitors easy access to the ocean with fewer crowds. There are plenty of options for shopping, fishing, golf, and, of course, a sandy beach. Myrtle Beach is a fantastic place to spend the winter months on the East Coast. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island lies in southern Georgia on the Atlantic. With its mild weather, you can golf year-round here. It’s also a sought-after location for snowbirds who like to explore nature, birdwatch, and beachcomb. In addition, there’s a sea turtle rehabilitation center on the island.

>> Get more tips for visiting Jekyll Island

Worth Pondering…

One of the things I had a hard time getting used to when I came to California in ’78 was Santa Claus in shorts.

—Dennis Franz

Best in Travel 2023: 30 Places to Inspire the RV Traveler

30 destinations that are sorted by five of the best types of experiences you can have there: eating, journeys, connecting, learning, and unwinding

My Best in Travel 2023 provides a diverse range of destinations to sate any RV traveler’s sense of wanderlust. From Amish Country to St. Marys, my list includes 30 destinations across the United States and Canada and each location comes with a curated guide and itinerary.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers considering where to travel in 2023 ask yourself one important question: What are the things that your heart will not rest until you see and experience them?

There’s a sense of looking deep into yourself to understand the things that you really want to see—that you know will restore you, that will give you a greater sense of connection and appreciation to the life that you live every day—that you can take something from that experience back with you that gives you a sense of calm to our fast-paced world.

Texas BBQ in Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What moves you? Itineraries that will get you doing the things you love.

To help whittle down the infinite litany of experiences in the world, my Best in RV Travel 2023 has sorted its top 30 destinations by five types of experiences that would be most meaningful for travelers: eating, journeys, unwinding, connecting, and learning.

Eat

This category is for the foodies. It features destinations that offer a wide range of activities centered on culinary exploration. 

Dining in Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the destinations is Las Cruces, New Mexico where travelers can experience everything chile. Nestled under the sharp landscape of the Organ Mountains to the east, the Mesilla Valley is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande River where some of the nation’s spiciest and scrumptious chilis are grown a few miles north of Las Cruces in the town of Hatch which calls itself the Chile Capital of the World.

St. Marys, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Journey

Travelers can experience intrepid journeys—be they by car, recreational vehicle, or hiking trails—by visiting the locations on this list.

For example, historic St. Marys, Georgia offers culture, heritage, and outdoor activities that will ensure a relaxing visit. Imagine meandering through the park-style setting of the St. Marys History Walk’s 600-foot looping trail. Learn about the old shipbuilding industry and arrange a ferry ride to Cumberland Island. Even during the shortest of stays, you will assuredly get a taste of the coastal, small-town lifestyles.

Amish Country Heritage Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unwind

These destinations are where you will relax and rebalance.

Travelers can help find their center in Northwest Indiana and live life in the slow lane. Taking a leisurely road trip through small towns along the Amish Country Heritage Trail feels a bit like time travel. Horse-drawn carriages move slowly along country roads and what those roads lack in conveniences like gas stations or fast food they more than provide serene views.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Connect

Immerse yourself in the local culture and community by checking out the destinations in the Connect category.

One of those destinations is Greenville, South Carolina, a community that has grown but still retains its small town feel.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn

If visiting museums, historical landmarks, and ancient sites is how you most enjoy experiencing new places then these destinations may be just for you.

Santa Fe is known as the City Different; within one visit, you will know why. Santa Fe embodies a rich history melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture, the food, and the art.

Worth Pondering…

Got a dream, a long-held wish of traveling to a special place you hope to see—someday? If so, you’re like many of us, waiting for mañana; for tomorrow or next month or next year—always waiting for the right time. Question is, will there ever be a time that’s right?

The Ultimate Guide to White Sands National Park

Here’s everything you need to see and do at White Sands National Park—from sand sledding to stargazing

Some places are so stunning and surreal that they transport you to another world. White Sands National Park is one such place. Here, the sand is so white it resembles mounds of snow and the dunes are so big and rolling that they resemble giant white waves. The otherworldly effect is only enhanced by the New Mexico blue sky which makes the white of the dunes pop.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A long-standing national monument, White Sands National Park had its designation upgraded in December of 2019—and for good reason. This surreal field of gypsum sand dunes tucked into the south-central portion of New Mexico has dazzled visitors for decades. Along with its stunning beauty it also has a fascinating historical and cultural context: surrounded by military installments this part of the country is often used to test defensive technologies such as missiles lending it an even more otherworldly and perhaps even eerie, quality.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That said, White Sands is a cheerful place as well; families gather to sled down the dunes and adventurers take to the sands for hiking, horseback riding, and just taking it all in. The national park is located in a relatively remote stretch of the southwestern desert and the closest New Mexican communities are Alamogordo and Las Cruces.

As far as landscape characteristics, White Sands is known for—you guessed it—its white gypsum sand dunes which covering 275 square miles of the desert is the largest such gypsum dune field of its kind. A wonder of the natural world, gypsum very rarely appears in dust form because it’s soluble in water, so whenever it rains in the area the gypsum readily dissolves and rolls off the mountain as fast as water.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, since the dunes are in the Tularosa Basin, the gypsum stays within the park in a completely enclosed area. Also, gypsum is transparent but the scratches make the sand appear as white as snow because the particles keep rubbing against each other under the sunlight.

Unlike most inland sand, gypsum doesn’t absorb heat so the sand remains cold even on the hottest day of the year. 

The illustrious white-sand-like gypsum dunes have existed for over ten thousand years and created an ecosystem wherein plants and animals have rapidly adapted to survive. Besides being a place of scientific marvel, it truly is scenery that’ll leave you speechless. 

Dune Life Nature Trail, White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is also home to a variety of plant and animal life with more than 800 animal species including the park’s endemic “white species”—mice, lizards, moths, and other insects that have gradually changed color becoming lighter in color than their relatives elsewhere.

It’s also been the site of fossilized footprint findings by which scientists have learned about a variety of its ancient citizens like dire wolves, mammoths, and saber-toothed cats.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Given its southern desert location, it’s no surprise to most visitors that White Sands can get extremely hot during the summer months with temperatures frequently nearing (or reaching) the triple digits; the sub-freezing winter nights are often more surprising.

The region has gone through many phases in history to hold the historical and national significance it does today. It is believed that at the end of the Ice Age approximately 20,000 years ago Asian hunters and gatherers crossed the Bering Land Bridge into Alaska along with large herds of domesticated animals and some now extinct species (like mammoths). The fossil footprints left by these animals can still be found on the Alkali flats along the edges of Lake Lucero (located on the southwest edge of the park). 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 10,000 years ago, people reached the margins of Lake Lucero which at the time was a permanent salt lake. With the harsh climate, any spot of lush green gradually disappeared. It is believed the area became a low-range hunting ground.

It is claimed that a significant drought took place in the 1200s in the Tularosa Basin leading its inhabitants to abandon it. After a couple of centuries, it was reinhabited by Mescalero Apaches, a Native-American tribe joined by Hispanic New Mexicans in subsequent decades. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These public lands became of interest in the nineteenth century due to industrialization and the significant possession of gypsum in the area. However, none of the plans to extract the gypsum materialized and the area just gained scenic and scientific significance. 

The 275-square-mile area was formally recognized on January 18, 1933 when President Herbert Hoover declared it a National Monument. By the end of the 1940s, large parts of the region were set aside as defense areas that undertake system testing even today at the ​​White Sands Missile Range. The US Government reclassified it as a National Park in 2019.

Dunes Drive, White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The only road in White Sands, Dunes Drive is an eight-mile scenic drive that leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dunefield. The scenic drive loops through the park past a picnic area, hiking trails, and educational exhibits with many stops along the way to take photos or explore the dunes on foot. The first five miles of Dunes Drive are paved and the last three miles are a hard-packed gypsum sand road. The road is suitable for cars, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and buses.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park has only one visitors center which greets visitors as they drive along Dunes Drive. It has restroom facilities, water supply, ranger information, and a small gift shop that sells water, snacks, sleds, and souvenirs. There are no gas stations or restaurants in the park and the closest are 13 miles away in Alamogordo.

Visitors to White Sand National Park can hike on and sled down the giant mounds of super-soft powder-like sand. Popular hiking trails include Dune Life Nature Trail, a moderate 1-mile self-guided loop hike. Though not difficult, this hike does require hikers to climb two steep dunes with loose sand. Follow the blue trail markers with a club symbol. Meet Katy the Kit Fox and learn about her friends on this family-oriented trail. Look for tracks of the animals that call these dunes their home. Kit foxes, badgers, birds, rodents, and reptiles all live in this area.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alkali Flat Trail is the park’s most strikingly beautiful hike. Since the winds are ever-shifting, the 4.6-mile trail is marked by a series of red trail markers with a diamond symbol which guide hikers along the correct path. The Alkali Flat Trail skirts the edge of what is now the final remnant of Lake Otero. You will be hiking up and down dunes the entire way. It’s the trail to take to see the park’s famous endless white sand against (usually) clear blue skies. But don’t let the word flat fool you.

Interdune Boardwalk, White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike the Interdune Boardwalk for a short walk over a maintained boardwalk. Take the easy 0.4 mile round trip stroll through the dunes and learn about the science, geology, plants, and animals that make White Sands an unequaled natural wonder. It’s a great chance for small children, novice hikers, or anyone with mobility difficulties to enjoy the dunes. The boardwalk is a great place to take a break under the shade canopy, listen for bird calls, observe lizards, and enjoy wildflowers.

The Backcountry Camping Trail is a moderate two-mile loop. Though backpackers hike the trail most frequently it is also open to visitors who want a shorter hike through the heart of the dunes. Follow the orange trail markers with a spade symbol into an area of beautifully varied dunes and vegetation. The trail requires hikers to climb over several steep dunes and loose sand. There is no shade, no water, and no toilet facility along this trail.

White Sands is one of the few national parks in the country where the trails are dog-friendly so by all means, go for a hike with Fido by your side.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular activities in White Sands National Park is sand sledding. It’s exactly what it sounds like: riding down the dunes on a sled. It’s particularly popular for families with children but it’s a blast for anyone. The soft sand is usually more forgiving than hard-packed snow and you can pick up a plastic sled at the White Sands Trading Company gift shop in the visitor’s center.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And every month from April to October, visitors can stay in the park until 10 or 11 pm and enjoy a surreal nightscape lit by moonlight so bright it casts shadows. The atmosphere in White Sands becomes even more otherworldly as the moon rises over the dunes and reflects off the glowing sands. Visitors can stick to Dunes Drive or join one of the ranger-led full moon hikes. Since dates and times for these special evenings vary check with the park for more information. You might even spot some of the park’s nocturnal wildlife like the kit fox, coyote, or desert cottontail that hunt and forage when the sun sets.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to visit White Sands National Park is during September or October. The weather is cooler but not yet cold, the summer storms have subsided and there are slightly fewer crowds. In addition to ideal weather you can catch one of the full moon nights when the park stays open late if you time your visit. Those nights start in May and last through October. The twice-yearly open houses for Trinity Test Site are usually held in April and October.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring is the windiest time of year and blowing sand reduces visibility and can irritate your skin and eyes. The summer is a popular choice but visitors must be mindful of the heat and sudden the potential for sudden rainstorms.

White Sands has a typical desert climate—so, in a word: harsh. Summer temperatures can climb into triple digits and the landscape offers no shade whatsoever. Heatstroke is the most significant risk in this area and it can happen alarmingly fast. Ensure every person in your party carries adequate water (one gallon per person per day with no exceptions).

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day (from around noon to 3 pm) and don’t hike if temperatures are warmer than you had anticipated. Always wear adequate sun protection including sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and protective clothing.

Conversely, with little humidity to trap heat desert temperatures plummet as soon as the sun goes down. It’s common to experience temperature swings of 30 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit between the day’s highs and lows. Winter nights can be well below freezing and December lows average a chilling 21 degrees. If you plan to camp overnight dress in layers and be prepared for both extremes.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

July and August are the rainiest months known locally as “monsoon season.” Expect thrilling lightning displays and sudden, heavy rains during this time. Luckily, these storms usually pass quickly.

But no matter when you go, the odds are good you’ll have sunny skies for your trip as southern New Mexico averages 290 days of sunshine per year. The region can go more than 100 days without any measurable precipitation.

While there is no RV parking or camping inside White Sands National Park, the park does offer some backcountry camping options for those looking for a rugged, wilderness experience. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That said, if you’re looking for a quick upgrade to your road trip, it’s hard to beat an RV for style! You’ll be able to enjoy all the freedom and flexibility of the road while knowing exactly where you’ll lay your head each night and even make your own meals.

White Sands National Park is located to the east of Las Cruces and is accessible from that city via U.S. Route 70. It’s about midway between Las Cruces and Alamogordo along that road.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 146,344 acres, currently ranked at 37 out of 63 National Parks by size

Date established: December 20, 2019 (designated by President Herbert Hoover as a National Monument on January 18, 1933)

Location: Southcentral New Mexico

Designation: UNESCO World Heritage Site

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Elevation: 3,887 feet to 4,116 feet

Park entrance fee: $25 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Backcountry camping fee: $3

Recreational visits (2021): 782,469

How the park got its name: White Sands was named for the glistening white gypsum sand dunes in the heart of the Tularosa Basin. Encompassing an enormous 275 sq mi, the dune field is the biggest of its kind in the world.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know?

The highest dunes are approximately 60 feet high.

White Sands is home to the world’s largest gypsum dune-field; it is so large that is can be seen from space.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dune-field has about 4.5 billion tons of gypsum sand. This is enough to fill 45 million boxcars which would make a train long enough to wrap around the earth at the equator over 25 times.

The sand here is not made of silica like most inland sand but rather of gypsum.

Unlike silica formed sand, the gypsum sand does not absorb heat from the sun and therefore remains cool to the touch and comfortable to walk on even in the heat.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 300 plants, 250 birds, 50 mammals, 30 reptiles, seven amphibians, and one fish species in White Sands National Park.

There are at least 45 endemic species meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth. These include the Apache pocket mouse, White Sands wood rat, bleached earless lizard, two camel crickets, and 40 species of moths.

Worth Pondering…

Life is not obvious here. It is implied, or twice removed, and must be read in signs or code. Ripple marks tell of the wind’s way with individual sand grains. Footprints, mounds, and burrows bespeak the presence of mice, pocket gophers, and foxes.

—Rose Houk and Michael Collier

Three Southwest Towns You Need To Visit This Winter

Instead of driving on snowy and dangerous icy roads this winter, take your RV south for the season.

These towns in Arizona and New Mexico have some amazing attractions as well as RV nearby RV parks and campgrounds.

Quartsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite, Arizona

Travel through this dusty outpost between April and November and you might wonder why this wide spot along Interstate 10 is such a popular snowbird destination for RVers. But visit in January and you’ll quickly see why: it morphs into a non-stop social event for RVing snowbirds.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dozens of inexpensive Quartzsite RV parks have room for seasonal guests and short-term visitors alike. Tens of thousands of snowbirds boondock at one of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designed visitor areas that surround Quartzsite. A long-term permit allows snowbirds to stay at a BLM-designated Long Term Visitor Area for $180 between September 15 and April 15 (a total of 7 months), or for any length of time between those two dates.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The LTVA short-visit permit ($40) allows the use of BLM-designated LTVAs for any 14-consecutive-day period from September 15th to April 15th The only caveat? You’ll go without hookups. The only “amenities” are beautiful desert sunsets with wide-open views of the surrounding area.

Related Article: Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite RV Show is the largest gathering of RVs and RVers on Earth. 2022 dates are January 22-30. Endless flea market shopping opportunities and RV club social events galore give you plenty to do.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Not to be confused with the California city of the same name, Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico is a peaceful city along the Pecos River. This town is the gateway to Carlsbad Caverns National Park with more than 100 underground caves.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park consists of a network of cave passages filled with stalagmites, stalactites, and other formations. The largest chamber, “The Big Room” is 8.2 acres and the largest accessible cave chamber in North America.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most people like to explore at their own pace on the Self-Guided Tours, but if you prefer having a guide with more information, consider taking one of their ranger-led tours. You can enter the caves by hiking down the steep 1.25-mile Natural Entrance Trail, or by simply taking an elevator down into the caves.

Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Camping in the Southwest

The national park doesn’t allow overnight camping, but there are lots of RV parks and campgrounds in the area.

Las Cruces and the Organ Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Las Cruces is less than an hour from the Texas border in southeastern New Mexico. The town sits in the shadow of the Organ Mountains and is a short drive from the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Organ Mountains are a steep, angular mountain range with rocky spires that jut majestically above the Chihuahuan Desert floor to an elevation of 9,000 feet. This picturesque area of rocky peaks, narrow canyons, and open woodlands ranges from Chihuahuan Desert habitat to ponderosa pine in the highest elevations.  Located adjacent to and on the east side of Las Cruces, this area provides opportunities for photography, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, and wildlife viewing.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dripping Springs Natural Area is also close to Las Cruces with easy hiking trails among huge rock spires. White Sands National Monument is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.

Related Article: Five National Parks to Visit on the Ultimate Southwestern Desert Road Trip

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserving the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.

Las Cruces Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll also want to stop and browse the town’s huge year-round Farmers and Crafts Market. Their famous downtown market includes over 300 local farmers, artists, bakers, and vendors selling fresh produce and handmade artisan goods.

Related Article: Stay Warm This Winter in these Unique Towns in the American Southwest

You’ll find numerous RV parks and campgrounds are in the area including a nearby state park and a BLM campground.

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold northern air stay up north!

Las Cruces: Outdoor Adventure & Rich History

From national parks and monuments to one of the top-rated farmer’s markets in the country, Las Cruces offers a world filled with natural wonder, endless sunshine, and historic proportions of fun

From the rugged mountains to the giant forests to the vast desert, New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment and home to an exceptional variety of activities throughout the state. 

Las Cruces, the second-largest city in New Mexico behind Albuquerque, is home to just over 100,000 people thanks in part to hosting New Mexico State University. That gives the city a unique southwestern culture. However, the surrounding area offers numerous popular attractions all within easy driving distance. White Sands National Park is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.

Mesilla Valley and Organ Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled under the sharp landscape of the Organ Mountains to the east, the Mesilla Valley is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande River where some of the nation’s spiciest and scrumptious chilis are grown a few miles north of Las Cruces in the town of Hatch, which calls itself the Chile Capital of the World.

Chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hatch Valley Chile Festival takes place in early September (September 4-5, 2021) and visitors can taste delicacies that range from hot to scalding to molten lava. For a fun souvenir, pick up a chile ristra which is rumored to bring extra good health when hung outside a house—or RV. 

Las Cruces has a rich history with American Indian tribes and Spanish conquistadors claiming the area as their own. Billy the Kid, a famous American outlaw, was sentenced to death just outside of the city in a town called Old Mesilla. The courtroom and jail that held him are still standing.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A quaint little community, Old Mesilla is home to dozens of art galleries and souvenir stores. The town square is the site of the very last stop on the Butterfield stagecoach line. In fact, the building that served weary travelers back then is still standing. Today, La Posta de Mesilla is a 10,000-square-foot restaurant that serves authentic Mexican food.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces is home to some of the largest dairy farms in America where they’re milking thousands of cows twice a day. If agriculture is of interest to you, be sure to check out the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The 47-acre site consists of 24,000-square feet of exhibit space including a working farm where people can see cows being milked and a blacksmith tending to his duties.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only is New Mexico State University a vibrant educational center with a plethora of ongoing cultural, social, and athletic events, it is home to the Zuhl Collection, which is a part art gallery and part natural history museum. Sponsored by Herb and Joan Zuhl, New York business people who made their living collecting fossils, minerals, and rocks, they retired to New Mexico and donated more than 2,000 of their best exhibits to the university.

Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday morning on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.

Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring historic downtown Las Cruces, be sure to stop in the Amaro Winery. Established just a few years ago, it has become a favorite stop among wine connoisseurs. All the grapes are grown in the fertile lands of southern New Mexico. The same soil that produces mouth-watering chilis also nurtures fine wine.

Las Cruces’ neighbor to the south, historic El Paso, Texas, is just 45 minutes south and features its own assortment of fun activities including a casino, museums, historic monuments, and zoo. It’s a fun and scenic day trip, especially the scenic route that goes around the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains for fabulous views of El Paso and neighboring Juarez, Mexico.

Along the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another scenic route is the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road that connects east El Paso to the west. In nearby Franklin Mountains State Park, visitors can enjoy breathtaking scenic views aboard the Wyler Aerial Tramway, an enclosed gondola that makes a four-minute trip to Ranger Peak. There, you’ll have an eagle’s view of 7,000 square miles of land that encompasses three states and two nations.

Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence

Spotlight on New Mexico: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

New Mexico is a truly unique place with gorgeous landscapes ranging from white sand deserts to snow topped mountains

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

There isn’t a single amazing thing about New Mexico. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is one of the top destinations in the American Southwest. A city that embraces its natural environment, Santa Fe is a city whose beautiful adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape. A city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals. Santa Fe draws those who love art, natural beauty, and those who wish to relax.

As the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

Shaped like giant waves, the dunes in the park are part of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The area was once part of the Permian Sea where an ancient lake evaporated and left the gypsum deposits behind. Tucked away in southern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, the park offers plenty to do. If you just want to see the dunes without getting dusty you can drive the eight-mile-long Dunes Drive. But the best way to explore is by hiking, horseback, or biking—and don’t miss out on the thrill of sledding down the soft white sand (you can bring your own plastic snow saucers or buy them at the gift shop).

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petroglyph National Monument 

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. These images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans.

Main Street Downtown Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces

Las Cruces, the second largest city in New Mexico, offers museums, theaters, historical sites, wonderful food, golf courses, bird watching, hiking, and gracious hospitality. Located in southern New Mexico less than an hour from the Texas border, Las Cruces enjoys warm weather and 320 days of sunshine per year. Las Cruces offers visitors a wide range of outdoor activities such as golfing, biking, hiking, and tennis, as well as a diverse assortment of museums, shopping, and festivals.  The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday mornings on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National Monument

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country. At the base of the bluff—often called Inscription Rock—on sheltered smooth slabs of stone, are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1939 to protect migrating waterfowl, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is home to more than 350 species of birds. Tens of thousands of snow geese and sandhill crane winter in the refuge as well as Ross’s Geese and many species of duck. Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge host a Festival of the Cranes in November (weekend before Thanksgiving) that includes events, classes, and even a photography contest. A 12-mile auto tour and numerous hiking trails are the primary means of exploring the refuge.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla

Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserve the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is a beautiful refuge 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Over 900 acres of land including Rio Grande wetlands and part of the Chihuahuan Desert with an education building for nature study. Visitors have opportunity to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Mesilla Valley Bosque is an Audubon designated IBA (Important Birding Area).

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations. In the area known as Chain of Craters, 30 cinder cones can be found across the landscape. La Ventana Natural Arch is easily accessible. Trails lead up to the bottom of the free-standing arch for a closer look at this natural wonder

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.  Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the desert. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented on the Refuge.

Along the Camino Real © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Camino Real

In 1598, Don Juan de Onate led 500 colonists through the remote and unfamiliar country now known as New Mexico. The route Onate followed became El Camino Real, “the royal road.” 

The byway begins just north of Las Cruces, in Fort Selden, built in the mid-1800s to protect local settlers and travelers on El Camino Real and continues to cross 90 miles of flat but waterless and dangerous desert, the Jornada del Muerto (“journey of the dead man”) before reaching Socorro. The road then heads north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe reaching its end at San Juan Pueblo, the first capital of New Mexico and the end of Don Juan de Onate’s journey. 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Just two trails (and an elevator) exist for hikers hoping to explore Carlsbad Caverns on their own. The Big Room Trail, the largest single chamber by volume in North America can be accessed via a 1.25-mile trail or a .6-mile shortcut. The relatively flat terrain weaves through a series of curious hanging stalactites and passes through park gems like the Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit, and Crystal Spring Dome.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is just over an hour north of Las Cruces bordering the Rio Grande. As New Mexico’s largest state park, there are plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and jet skiing are all commonplace at Elephant Butte Lake. For less water-based activities you can enjoy the 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around the lake. Camping is allowed, including along the beach.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell

Roswell is a great trip if you want that out-of-this-world vacation without the hassle of kitting out your RV for spaceflight every time you want to leave the Milky Way Galaxy. This desert town promises a unique getaway unlike any other—on this planet, at least. The city had been around since the mid-19th century, but it only got its claim to fame in 1947 when a UFO allegedly crash-landed nearby in what became known as the “Roswell Incident.” While the truth is still out there the town has embraced its notoriety with enthusiasm from the one-of-a-kind UFO-centric McDonald’s to alien-themed playgrounds and buses. And if you’re not into exploring the outer limits, you’re still in luck here. The town also boasts a thriving arts scene, beautiful nature areas, and deep ties to the history of the Wild West. 

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

A Monumental Road Trip through New Mexico’s National Monuments

From ancient natural wonders to Native American and Southwestern culture, to scenic vistas and alien lore, New Mexico is one of the most wonderfully unique destinations in America

Road trips have the unique ability to make you feel like you’ve thoroughly explored a region on a Lewis and Clark-esque journey. In reality, even the most extensive road trips leave many stones unturned especially in states with seemingly limitless natural beauty. New Mexico would probably take months on the road to fully explore. That’s okay. You don’t have to see every inch of New Mexico on one tank of fuel but the state’s famous national monuments are a good place to start.

Albuquerque from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In fact, only California and Arizona have more national monuments and that’s not even counting New Mexico’s historic parks. Rather than visit all 11 national monuments we’ve listed our favorites among them which will give you a feel for what makes this state’s geography so unique and memorable. Whether it’s a volcanic field or a white-sand desert, New Mexico’s unusual landscapes are just waiting to be visited. Here’s how to plan the perfect New Mexico road trip through its epic national monuments.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Albuquerque to rock carvings

Road trips might be about the journey rather than the destination but no one wants to wait too long before stopping at their first viewpoint or reaching the first stop on their itinerary. When you set out from Albuquerque you’ll only have to wait mere minutes before seeing your first national monument.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Technically located within the city limits of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument stretches 17 miles along Albuquerque’s West Mesa. Petroglyphs are rock carvings where drawings are made by chiseling on the outer layer of the stone to expose the paler rock underneath. One of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, this area features designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks 400 to 700 years ago by Native Americans and Spanish settlers. The symbols give you a window into the life of a centuries-old civilization and serve as a record of cultural expression.

There are also four different hiking trails just a short drive from the information center ranging in length from one to four miles roundtrip. Three of these trails allow for petroglyph viewing. To see the area is less time and then continue on your journey, consider mountain biking. Bikes are permitted on the Boca Negra Canyon multi-use path.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head to the headlands

About two hours west of Duke City, El Morro begs the traveler—ancient and modern—to rest awhile. This national monument is an area both of scenic beauty and historic significance. The bluff (el morro means “the headland” in Spanish) has a reliable source of water making it a great base for ancestral Puebloans and a good stopping point for both Spanish and American travelers. Along the path, only a half mile long and perfect for the casual visitor, are ancient petroglyphs as well as inscriptions from Spanish conquistadors as early as 1605 and, more recently, American travelers passing through in the 1850s.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico’s volcanic landscape

From El Morro, your route continues back toward Albuquerque and it’s worth the detour to head to El Malpais National Monument. The rough lava landscape so scarred by its volcanic history that “malpaís” in fact means “badland.” Like El Morro, the landscape is quite barren though there is evidence of prior volcanic activity including several lava tubes you can explore.  Even though these badlands cover a large area you can see much of it by following the main park road. Numerous hikes and longer treks are available. Malpais is certainly worth a visit.

White Sands National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South to the white desert

Since you’re half way to the border of Arizona at this point, it’s time to turn around and head south. But we’re not stopping at Albuquerque. We’re passing your starting point by about four hours (250 miles) to White Sands National Park taking Interstate 25 south to Las Cruces and US-70 northeast.

At the end of 2019, White Sands was designated a national park—but it was a national monument for 86 years. It’s on the itinerary because you haven’t really seen the New Mexico desert until you’ve seen White Sands, a remarkable place that looks like the Sahara Desert collided with the Alabama Gulf Coast. That’s because its sand is made of gypsum, a mineral salt left by a long-lost lake tens of millions of years ago.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at the southern edge of a 275-square-mile dune field in the Tularosa Basin, the monument is best explored by the eight-mile Dunes Drive from the visitor center into the heart of the rippled gypsum knolls. In addition to driving the alien terrain you can also get out and cycle, take advantage of picnic areas, or even camp under the stars. Indeed, backcountry camping sites among the dunes are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

There are five hiking trails through the park ranging from the half-mile Playa Trail focusing on outdoor educational exhibits to the more strenuous Alkali Flat Trail, a five-mile round trip hike taking you to the edge of Lake Otero. Despite its name, the trail is not flat taking you over steep dunes and into the heart of the spectacular park.

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From delicate dunes to craggy peaks

To cap off your New Mexico road trip, travel south to Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. A stark departure from the flat, arid landscape that has defined much of this road trip, this area is home to dramatic ranges with rocky spires and the park is full of open woodlands with towering ponderosa pines.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument includes the Organ Mountains, Doña Ana Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and the Greater Potrillo Mountains. The Organ Mountains are defined by their angular peaks, narrow canyons, and views of the Chihuahuan Desert habitat. It’s popular among horseback riders, mountain bikers, campers, and hikers. The Doña Ana Mountains have an abundance of hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails as well as rock climbing routes. The more remote Potrillo Mountains comprise a volcanic landscape including lava flows and craters.

Before driving back to Albuquerque, consider spending an evening in Las Cruces to explore Historic Mesilla and savor the area’s Hatch Valley chile peppers in one of its tempting green chile burgers—or even in a sweet frozen custard.

La Posta in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience

The historic town of Mesilla lies just south of Las Cruces and is what some might call the hidden jewel of the state

Two miles south of Las Cruces is one of the most historic towns in the Southwest: La Mesilla. Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s, but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in western expansion.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the United States entered into the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848, it gained control over Texas, New Mexico, and Upper California, setting the Mexican-American border at Rio Grande River. Those wishing to continue being Mexican citizens moved across the Rio Grande back into Mexico. They settled on a small hill and founded the town of La Mesilla.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the mid-1850s, Mesilla had established itself as an instrumental town in the transportation of passengers and goods around the Southwest. The Mexican town prospered as it became one of the only places travelers could stop, rest, and get supplies, no matter which direction they were heading.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But when the Gadsden Purchase was ratified in 1854, the small town would again fall under the authority of the United States as the U.S. gained control of nearly 30,000 square miles of northern Mexico, southern Arizona, and New Mexico. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000, making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the plaza, fine hotels and restaurants were built to accommodate the influx of travelers and new residents. Drove-muleteers and miners traveling between El Paso, Santa Fe, and mining companies in the Gila and San Andres Mountains regularly purchased supplies in Mesilla prompting wholesalers from as far away as San Antonio and St. Louis to advertise in Mesilla newspapers. The town was also frequented by Apache Indians, who regularly attacked, stealing livestock and food, and taking captives.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the Apaches were not the only ones to invade Mesilla. During the 1850s, Confederate troops invaded the small town, taking control and declaring it the capital of the Arizona Territory of the Confederate States of America. Headquarters were set up in what is currently the Fountain Theatre and although some residents supported the Confederate cause the town continued to celebrate its Mexican heritage. The broad mix of political views and cultures often resulted in riots and shootouts, quite a contrast to the fiestas, dances, and fairs residents were accustomed to.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla continued to grow and prosper until the early 1880s when the Santa Fe Railroad selected nearby Las Cruces instead of Mesilla for the location of its newest route.  Mesilla landowners resented the railroad’s assumption that local residents would help build the line prompting Las Cruces businessmen to persuade the railroad giant northward. With attention now focused on Las Cruces, Mesilla’s appeal and importance began to wane. To this day, its size and population are virtually the same as they were 120 years ago.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the coming of the railroad brought with it its own set of problems to the area. Workers consumed huge quantities of beef placing city officials at the mercy of cattle rustlers. Gunfights often broke out in the streets of Mesilla and horse thieves and cattle rustlers like Nicolas Provencio and Dutch Hubert were regulars in both towns. Even western outlaw Billy the Kid—a frequent visitor of both towns—was tried and convicted for murder in a Mesilla courtroom. It was said that during sentencing, the judge told Billy he would hang until he was “dead, dead, dead,” to which Billy replied, “Well you can go to hell, hell, hell.” Billy was later shot and killed by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett after escaping from a Lincoln County jail cell where he was awaiting execution.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, visitors won’t find wild gunfights or riots on Mesilla’s streets; rather they can visit a new generation of Mesilla residents. Where a stagecoach depot, saloon, courthouse and hotel once stood, you now find restaurants, art galleries, bookstores, and shops. On some weekends, the plaza plays host to festivals and events like Cinco de Mayo, Diez y Seis de Septiembre, and Dia de los Muertos, all celebrating the town’s heritage and colorful past.

San Albino Church, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the Christmas season, the plaza is aglow with luminarias and filled with the sounds of carolers. Visitors can also see the San Albino Church built from adobe more than 100 years ago or the Gadsden Museum, a local landmark recounting the area’s rich history. And just down the street, shoppers can find the latest addition to Mesilla, the Mercado de Mesilla, featuring an array of merchants, vendors, and restaurants.

San Albino Church, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Efforts to preserve the town’s rich history, culture, and architecture have made Mesilla one of the best-known and most-visited historic communities in southern New Mexico. Year-round, visitors can experience all the intrigue and independence this historic village has to offer.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are more than enough activities to keep you occupied in Mesilla, the town is located about two miles from Las Cruces, the second-largest city in the state. We defy you to be bored here!

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe