White Sands National Monument is a beautiful place. Possibly the most beautiful, and certainly most unique, of the parks we visited. All the rangers were nice, the visitor center staff very friendly and helpful, the water from the well tasty and tons of restrooms strewn throughout the park. The following is about the park’s hours only.
Forgive the following gripe session…
As we prepared for our trip, I did a good bit of research on several of the parks we hadn’t visited before, White Sands National Monument in southern NM being one of them. As I looked at photos and read about the park, I had mixed feelings. First, the white sand looked really cool. Second, it didn’t look like it would be super crowded. Third, this place has really dumb operating hours. I am not talking about the visitor center but the actual park, the dunes.
When we visited in early May, the gate opened officially at 7 am and closed at 8:30 pm. Were I coming to the park to go sledding on the dunes or for a quick drive through the park that would be no problem. (But as a photographer these hours just don’t work. Sunrise is at approximately 6:15 am and sunset at 8:10 pm.) Who set these operating hours? Now I get it. I know in the grand scheme of things not everyone wants to be there when the sun is just peaking over the mountains to the east, but by the time you can get to the entrance gate, the sun is already fairly high in the sky and once you make it to the dunes, fughetaboutit! You have very little chance of getting any color in the morning sky.
And sunset? A bit better. Sunset was about 8:10 pm when we were there, so you could, in fact, get the sun going behind the mountains to the west and get some color. But many times that’s just the beginning of the light show. The clouds, if any, will begin to light up and glow. and that’s exactly when you have to pack up and get started on the drive out. We heard a ranger, presumably, driving through the park on a megaphone telling all of us that the park was closing in 20 minutes and it was time to gather our belongings and head to the entrance because they would indeed lock the gate if you weren’t there by 8:30. Not sure the penalty if you didn’t get out on time.
These inane gate times really got under my skin. I asked a few of the rangers about the hours. And just so you know I was very nice when I asked because I was truly curious, and I just heard the official line, those are the hours of the park.
BUT, the park has come up with a solution. In addition to the park entrance fee, you can fill out an application and pay an additional $50 to try and get either an early or late entry into the park. You must go online, fill out an application, wait for approval (if approved) and get an email notification 2-3 weeks after applying. This also boggles my mind. This park wants to charge me extra to come in an hour early or stay an hour late. So many other parks in the NP system are always open. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can come and go as you please. Want to shoot the Milky Way in Arches NP at 2:00 am? Come on in. The gate is up, no one is manning the booth and you can come and go as you please. Oh, one other option is you can camp on the dunes and be there overnight.
A couple possible reason for the odd hours: White Sands National Monument is next door to the White Sands Missile Range and Holloman AFB, both of which may be reasons for the restricted hours. And I can certainly understand that if it is a security issue and they are worried about some sort of terrorism, okay, then yes, we need to be safe. But again, not one of the rangers, nor the NPS website offers these up as reasons for the abbreviated hours. So many other parks are open 24 hours a day and you can enter and exit at your heart’s content. Or is it a budgetary problem? Leave the gate open and the entrance booth unstaffed like so many other parks.
Now you know what to expect. Check the NPS website for operating hours before you go.
So that is the gripe session of the trip. I know, i know it’s really not that big of a deal and not the end of the world - it just bothered me a lot. Now I have vented and am over it.