I know where I am...Right?
Your off trail hiking adventure in the White Sands National Monument begins at the Self Registration Register at the Heart of the Sands Nature Center... to be found on the Loop drive deep into the Monument, next to one of their nice picnic areas, complete with pit toilets and various informational displays. They want you to read the displays, both for the usual warnings about desert hiking, but also for their display of potential weapons ordinance that you might come across. (See Pictures) They have an assortment of nice pictures of items you are to leave entirely alone if encountered.
Additionally, the display details the portion of the White Sands basin that is off limits, not open to hiking except with prior approval. This is the Cooperative Use Zone area (all lands west of 106 degrees 20 minutes West Longitude). I get the feeling that if you venture over into that area you might become a ready and inviting moving target for the adjacent missile range folks, or the German Airforce housed at Holloman Air Base on the upper end of the Monument.
You sign in and out there at the Nature Center. You need to be aware that they like to close this park down early, usually within an hour of sunset. Check with the Ranger as you enter the park. Make sure you do sign out; saves the Rangers the hassle of thinking about looking for you.
Once signed in and aware of where you cannot go, decide generally where you would like to explore, or, just head out across the dunes. The surrounding mountains provide a solid orientation for a general sense of navigating. The erosion patterns are not reliable... they are formed by wind, not water, so the little valleys tend to lead to nowhere. Seek out the tallest dunes for a sense of progress... and it is deceiving as to exactly which are the big ones... they all loom large from one perspective or another.
Cooler weather, or a cloudy day makes for the best adventuring. The park does not open until 7am, so early starts are a bit hard to achieve unless you take advantage of their tent camping areas... spending the night out. They effectively discourage this activity by putting the limited sites well away from the road (...bit odd since the park is locked down at night!) but, this nearly guarantees you may have the park to yourself... and can begin your early morning adventuring whenever you want... or even better, choose a full moon night and venture out for an overnight hike.
I normally would suggest foregoing a GPS out in the dunes... takes away some of the alure, but it sure can make it easy to find your camp or car at the end of the day. And, in the event of a sand storm (...a real potential) can be a lifesaver.
White Sands off trail... the only way to go!
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
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.