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Alkali Flats Trail, NM

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Guide 9 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southeast
4.2 of 5 by 5
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Round Trip 4.99 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,995 feet
Elevation Gain -51 feet
Accumulated Gain 55 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 3-4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 5.27
Interest Off Trail Hiking
Backpack No
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9  2018-11-18
White Sands National Monument
6  2018-09-21 Booneman
8  2017-03-31 kingsnake
15  2016-03-11 AZ_Step
8  2012-11-23 keepmoving
20  2012-05-16 willydn
9  2012-03-14 lP14
22  2011-09-04 RedRoxx44
Page 1,  2
Author desertgirl
author avatar Guides 20
Routes 1
Photos 3,098
Trips 428 map ( 3,024 miles )
Age Female Gender
Location Chandler, AZ
Co-Author aWill
co-author avatarGuides 1
Routes 0
Photos 0
Trips 0 map (0 Miles)
Age Male Gender
Location Southern NM
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Mar, Feb, Jan
Seasons   Early Autumn to Early Summer
Sun  5:48am - 6:13pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Gypsum Dunes
by desertgirl & aWill

Overview: If you want to see unvegetated dunes stretching for miles into a beautiful vista and have a wilderness-type experience, the Alkali Flat Trail is for you. This trail takes you through the Heart of the Sands, up and over dunes, and ends at the edge of the Alkali Flat. This trail is approved for foot travel only. No bicycles, horses or motorized vehicles are allowed.

Warning: The air space above the park is periodically used by military aircraft and for missile testing. Debris from testing occasionally falls into the park. DO NOT TOUCH ANY METALLIC OBJECTS. These can be dangerous. Report any debris to a park ranger.
There is no shade or water along the trail, and summer temperatures can exceed 100 degrees F (38 ° C). Heat-related illness is common in warm weather and can be fatal. Hike during cool times. Carry food and at least two quarts of water. Rest, eat and drink when tired. Drinking water is available only at the Visitor Center. The white sand reflects sunlight. Protect all exposed skin from sunburn. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses.

History: The Alkali Flat is the dry lakebed of Lake Otero, a lake that filled the bottom of the Tularosa Basin during the last ice age and covered 1,600 square miles. Please note that you do not have to hike the entire trail to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

Hike: The trail is marked by white posts with orange reflective tape at the top, so look carefully for the next trail marker before continuing. If you cannot see the next post because of blowing sand or dust -- do not proceed. Turn back. The strong winds, especially in the spring, can reduce visibility to a few feet, making it easy to get lost. Please be sure to sign in and out at the register at the trailhead, so we know you got back safely.

White Sands is an unique place in many ways - hiking across the white gypsum sand dunes is a one of a kind experience. Typical sand dunes are usually composed of quartz but these dunes are entirely made up of gypsum which yields a very uniform grained sand that are soft to touch and a brilliant white. The minerals dissolve out of the surrounding mountains and concentrate into Lake Lucero. Here the gypsum precipitates out in to selenite crystals that eventually get broken down into fine white sand. Westerly winds drive these sands in an eastern direction making graceful dunes - you find a number of different types of dunes here - Barchan, Parabolic dunes, Reverse Parabolic Dunes, Dome Dunes and Transverse Barchans. The Alkali Flats trail takes you through the Heart of the Dunes out to the flat lake bed primarily through Transverse Barchan type dunes.

This hike starts at the end of the Dunes drive. Register at the trail head and make sure you can return to the trailhead with 1 hr of sunset (when the park closes). Rangers check the TH and book to ensure everyone gets out. The trail heads west all the way out to the Alkali Flats (lake bed) and returns. San Andres Mountains stay in your line of sight the entire way out. The trail is marked by white /orange posts that allow you navigate from point to point as you traverse the deep dunes - some towering above you for 60-70ft.

Do not proceed if you cannot see the next post because of blowing sand or dust. Strong winds, especially in the spring, can reduce visibility to a few feet, making it easy to get lost. Make sure you get you bearings when you head out with the landmarks on the horizon around this area.

As you pick you way up dunes faces and travel inter-dune areas you will see relics of past dunes and their every onward march. The inter-dune areas are covered with ridges of old dunes - these ridges are left behind where the water /salts bind the gypsum into a harder composite right at the base of old dunes. You will see succeeding ridges and also see that today's dunes are moving in slightly different directions. The inter-dune area allows for a smattering of grasses but overall you will see no major vegetation for the entire hike - Just layer after layer of majestic dunes. There is one great example of a skunk bush sumac whose dune had moved on, leaving it perched high up on its cylindrical pedestal, which its roots had captured.

At 2.1 miles the trail leads into the Alkali Flat - Follow markers back into the dunes to return - You will he heading back east with the mountains in view now and the lights of Alamogordo ahead of you. San Andres Mountain is to your back now. Follow the markers back to the trail head. You retrace your steps or make a loop or cross country if you can navigate well - just don't get lost!

There is no shade or water along the trail, and summer temperatures can exceed 100 degrees F (38 C). Hike during cool times. The white sand reflects sunlight. Protect all exposed skin from sunburn. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses.

Water Sources: The only water source is at the White Sands National Monument visitor center, 7 miles (11.2 km) from the trailhead 32.779634, -106.172450.

Camping: Camping is not allowed in this hiking area, but there are 10 Backcountry Primitive Camping sites available with a permit on a first come first served basis in WSNM. Which are reached from a trailhead on the Dunes Drive, about 6 miles from the Visitor Center. It is about a one-mile hike into the campsites. The campsites are primitive with no water or toilet facilities. No ground fires are permitted at the campsites or anywhere else in the park; however, containerized fuel is permitted. Anyone wishing to use a backcountry campsite must obtain a permit at the Visitor Center between 8 a.m. and one hour before sunset. Backcountry permits are limited and available only in person on the day of use, on a first come-first served basis.

Pets are allowed on this trail but must remain on a leash at all times. Make sure you clean up after them.

Please avoid walking on vegetation. Please do not remove any sand, plants, animals, or other natural and historic objects. They are protected by law.

Description posted by desertgirl 2008-12-17. Co-Author aWill & joe bartels revised 2014-09-14.

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2014-09-14 desertgirl & aWill
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Alkali Flats Trail
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    The last time I was on White Sands Missile Range, on which the Monument is resident, was for annual training with the (now deceased) 153rd Field Artillery Brigade of the Arizona Army National Guard. That was on the south end of post, where the dunes are smaller, but have a lot more vegetation. I somehow managed to lose a battery of self-propelled 155s in the dunes. 8-[

    Driving in from Las Cruces on Thursday, I had seen a still snow-capped mountain north of Alamogordo, which I am guessing was 11,973 ft. Sierra Blanca Peak. I thought it would make a great background contrast to photos of White Sands’ dunes. Unfortunately, my creative vision was aborted by the 25-35 mph winds that were accurately predicted for Friday in the Alamogordo area. Despite being sand blasted at the Alkali Flat trailhead, I was there to hike, dammit. (No more :pk: ?) So, hike I did.

    The park recommends each hiker carry two liters of water. (The French couple who died in 2015 carried 1.2 liters, total, for three people, including their son, who survived.) I carried nearly my normal fluid load, 2.5 liters of water and one liter of Gatorade. I drank one liter of water and 250ml of Gatorade.

    I never did see anyone behind me, and passed three pairs of hikers doing the loop clockwise. The first two pairs appeared to be less than properly prepared (shorts, no hats, obviously not enough water).

    I fantasized about the Rat Patrol [ youtube video ] flying over the dunes, blasting away with their 50s. When the wind was at its worst, and I could barely see the next pole, I wondered if the Foreign Legion would have to rescue me. Might have helped if I was a fair damsel.

    So much sand was in the air, photos were difficult. I was digging sand out of my ears two days later. (Back at our motel in Alamogordo, we could not see the mountains just east of town.)

    The next day, it was off to Trinity Site for their semiannual open house!

    Hike Video: [ youtube video ]

    Hahahaha. You're kidding, right?
    Alkali Flats Trail
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    After talkin' 'bout it for 2 years, we finally got our a's out to White Sands!

    3/21 - Departed Safford at 5am. After 2 stops along the way in Lordsburg & Las Cruces, we pulled into White Sands at 11am. First stop was at the visitor center to secure our backcountry camping permit. We then drove the entire monument road checking everything out before stopping at one of the picnic areas to get our day packs ready for the Alkali Flats trail.

    Alkali Flats trail - Arrived at the trail-head, signed the register and off we went. We headed out with several others clockwise, but by mile 1 we were all alone the rest of the 5 mile loop. By far the most unique "trail" I have ever hiked following trail markers up & down white sand dunes. Beautiful, surreal, one of a kind experience, etc .......... It was Awesome!!!

    After our hike, we headed back to the picnic area to rest and prepare our backpacks for the hike in to our backcountry campsite for the night.

    Backcountry Camping Loop - Arrived at the camping trail-head, signed the register and off we went again. Only a .8 mile hike in to our site (#10). Being such a short hike in, we overstuffed our packs with some comforts including a propane heater and beach chairs (yolo). We finished setting up camp as the sun was going down, climbed up to the high dune to photograph the sunset and then set out for a nice 98% full moon hike for about an hour. Again ..... Beautiful, surreal, one of a kind experience, etc .......... It was Awesome!!!
    Bed came early along with a night chill, great first day.

    3/22 - Awoke early beating the sun up and spent the beginning of this new day atop another high dune photographing a very nice sunrise. We broke camp, hiked back out to the car & headed out stopping at the visitor center once more to purchase a few souvenirs of our stay.

    White Sands exceeded my expectations!
    Already can't wait to go back for some off-trail hiking further into the dunes.
    Very rewarding trip with my most crazy, hilarious bad pumpkin partner !!!
    Alkali Flats Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Hiked out to Alkali Flats and back - This was a photo hike at sunset. Great light and fun hike. Do not underestimate this hike - its entirely in the sand. The dunes are reasonably firm walking but you are going up and down dunes a lot and have to navigate using the markers - There is no trail.

    Permit $$

    White Sands National Monument
    Monument Entrance Fees

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Alamogordo NM, drive 15 miles west on US-70 to the park entrance. From Las Cruces NM, drive 50 miles east on US-70 to the park entrance. From the main entrance, proceed into the park 7.90 miles to a well marked parking area. The trail begins at the sign, and is well marked by wooden posts the entire way. (Lat:32.8205 Lon:-106.27357)

    From Las Cruces, NM: Heading East on Highway US-70 towards Alamogordo for ~52 miles, aprox. 1 mile past the Border Patrol Checkpoint is the entrance/visitor center on your left. Follow Dunes Dr. for ~7 miles.
    page created by desertgirl on Dec 17 2008 3:32 pm
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