White Sands offers everything from scenic short hikes of 330 yards to a five-mile hike that unfolds vistas the likes of which are unparalleled in the lower 48. But it comes with a warning — beware of missiles. Not that they’ll be launched at you or anything like that, but the debris may be buried in the sand. And guess what? The sand dunes move. Yes, move. The winds push the most recently formed dome dunes.
If You Go...
New Mexico State University
The Chile Pepper Institute
Gerald Thomas Hall #265
940 College Ave.
Rio Grande Vineyards & Winery
5321 New Mexico Highway 28
St. Clair Winery & Bistro
1720 Avenida de Mesilla
White Sands Missile Range Museum
200 Headquarters Ave.
White Sands National Monument
19955 Highway 70 West
Because of steady winds at points during the year, the dunes move northeast about 30 feet a year. (For those who may be interested in seeing that with your own eyes, it works out to about an inch a day. So you should take their word for it.) Next door to the national park is White Sands Missile Range — another popular tourist destination — which was used for testing missiles just after the close of World War II and continues to be used for the same purpose.
“Since the dunes are constantly moving,” Denton says, “the sand shifts and uncovers stuff from the World War II era. They did tests over us and they didn’t pick the stuff up because they had other priorities at the time.
“So things that were getting covered are now getting uncovered. We have a little brochure that we give out and we say, ‘If you see anything like this, don’t touch it, don’t kick it and don’t pick it up because it might explode.’ ”
Although that sounds a little intimidating for a vacation, there have been no mishaps.
While White Sands is a premier attraction in the Las Cruces area and provides a full day of exploration, there is much more. During our four-day visit, we visited three art galleries and three of the nine wineries in the area.
We discovered that the area offers everything from the extremes of the late 1800s to the future of commercial space travel.
In the historic town of Mesilla, which is next door to Las Cruces, we found a gift shop commemorating Billy the Kid, which is a bit strange because he was an outlaw. The local connection is that he was convicted of a murder at a trial held in Mesilla and was supposed to be hanged. He escaped, only to be gunned down later.
The gift shop is part of a plaza that includes restaurants, a jewelry store, a museum, other retail outlets and a church that dates back to 1855.
At the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, which highlights the history of New Mexico farming, ranching and rural life, the past met the present in the form of Billy Provence, the local blacksmith.
Provence says he began learning his trade when he was 8 years old and, except for a few years when he says he was “cowboying,” he has been a blacksmith.
“But even when I was cowboying,” says Provence, who looks the part with a bushy mustache, “I was making spurs.” Provence, a 66-year-old native of Sudan, Texas, delivers an oral version of the history of blacksmiths with a rich Texas drawl and a sense of humor that keeps listeners giggling.
“If you see anything you’d like to buy,” he says, pointing at knives, letter openers and crosses that he has made, “it’s for sale. And if my wife was here, she’d be a pointin’ at me.”