Snow In Summer...Year Round
For most of the thousands of visitors to this National Monument each year it is all about a brief drive thru, and possibly some playtime sliding down the steep roadside sand dunes. This amazing environment is the largest deposit of gypsum in the world, covering over 275 square miles... and can provide endless hours of unique hiking for those willing to venture out and away from the roadways.
The true joy here is the contrasting textures and skyscapes... and the odd sense of "awayness" that can be achieved. Erosion in this desert basin is not from water, but instead from the wind. The dunes are constantly moving and reshaping. The normal drainage pattern orientations for movement are invalid out in the sands. Walking along what seem to be drainages can lead you further and further away from your point of origin, and you can become interestinly "lost" in the process.
If you hike far enough out, you are walking on virgin sand...no signs of anyone having passed that way before.
There are a couple of established trails... but, the really great formations and textures seem to be found only out in the areas well away from those paths. The park allows for off trail waundering (you are supposed to register with the rangers if you go off trail) and that is what makes for an exceptional visit to this desert basin... and, it is a desert. There is no protection from the sun out there... and no water. The slothing through the dunes can exert an interesting level of exertion on the legs, and the sand will invade any shoes or boots worn. Blisters are not an uncommon result. Prepare accordingly.
Take plenty of water...
Interesting Challenge: Head out for an hour or so of random directions then see if you can self orient back to the point of origin. The basin is surrounded on two sides by mountain ranges and provides simple broad orientations. It can be a real challenge to make your way around the towering dunes and accurately back to the start. GPS might be interesting but would take some of the fun out of the venture.
This is not so much about a specific trail as about a hiking wonderland... where running, jumping and even soaring fills in the moments... as can just sitting and enjoying the sense of solitude.
Check out the Triplogs.
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.