It's All About Getting There!
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Lake Lucero: the sometime lake that for most of the year lies as a dead, dry crystaline playa.
The exectional aspect: the very unique giant crystal formations along some of the edges. White Sands is the world's largest single deposit of gypsum, and Lake Lucero is the initial repository of that mineral as it leaches out of the mountains in seasonal floods. There it evaporates out of the solutions and takes on the various crystal forms that compose the White Sands Basin.
The normal way to visit the lake is to sign up for one of the monthly guided tours.
A more interesting approach is to seek out the special access permits that will allow you to hike across and into the no man's land werein the military conducts it's arms testing. The permit is contingent on no testing activity being scheduled around the dates of your permit.
This back door access will include 22-25 miles of cross desert trekking, often over and across the giant dunes, but mostly across the munchy playa. Depending on the conditions, this can be a very demanding hike or a near killer hike if the playa is a touch on the moist side. If you choose to make this path less traveled approach, I suggest carrying along a GPS with the lake spotted as a destination on the unit. The giant crystals are not to be found on the nearer portion of the lake basin; you will need to hike all the way to the far edge and seek them out.
Take along foot repair. The long crunchy miles and shoes full of sand will shred most folks feet (did mine!).
Also, do not rely on being able to retrace your footprints for your return route. On even a mild wind day the sand can shift to totally obliterate the prints. A safer, if longer approach: access the Playa along the marked Alkali Flat trail.
Or... take the easy, more normal route: drive to the Lake!
The Park service provides this info:
Have you ever wondered how the white sands formed? Take a tour to Lake Lucero with a ranger and learn about the formation of the sands and the special plants and animals that live in and around the dunes. These three-hour ranger-guided tours to the playa (dry lakebed) of Lake Lucero are offered once a month and reservations are required.
Reservations can be made by following the instructions below and can be made no more than one month in advance of the tour date. A special use fee is charged for the tour: $3.00 per person ages 16 and older, $1.50 for children and to holders of the Golden Age Pass. National Park/Golden Eagle Passports and the White Sands Annual Pass do not apply for this special tour.
DIFFICULTY OF THE HIKE- Moderate. The 1.5 mile round trip hike is through an arroyo and is not a maintained trail. The soil is loose and the terrain can be rough. This hike is not wheelchair accessible and is not recommended for those with impaired mobility.
The tour will begin at the Small Missile Range Gate intersection with US Highway 70, 25 miles west of White Sands National Monument headquarters, between mileposts 174 and 175. The trip will return to the Small Missile Range Gate three hours after the start time. Cameras may not be used while passing through the missile range, but are encouraged for use while at the monument lake area.
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Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.