Alcohol Regulations

Alcohol is prohibited within the park during the months of February, March, April and May.

No kegs are allowed at any time of year.


Why is alcohol banned in the monument during these times?

By Kathy Denton
Interpretive Park Ranger and former Law Enforcement Ranger

The alcohol ban of February 1 through May 31 came about after many years of abuse of alcohol in the dunes primarily during spring breaks (starting in mid-March) and going through Easter Sunday, Day in the Sands (a special volley ball tournament event no longer held at White Sands National Monument), and Memorial Day weekend.

Spring breaks regularly draw college and high school-age students from Alamogordo, Las Cruces, El Paso, and Carlsbad. Why? We are the "beach without water;" an inexpensive Daytona Beach. Typical violations during Spring Breaks included all traffic violations: speeding, unsafe and reckless driving, failure to stop, driving without license/ insurance/ registration, off-road driving. Other violations included littering, loud music, public indecency (i.e. mooning passing vehicles), fighting, drugs (possession, use, and distribution), weapons possession, and alcohol (both possession and consumption by underage individuals and driving under the influence).

Over the years, the ratio of party crowd vs. family groups became top-heavy. More and more, the only people in the monument during spring breaks were young adults and high school kids wanting to drink and party. From 1992 through 1996, the Chief Ranger requested assistance from other park units in the area to help with spring breaks.

In 1996, a series of events occurred in one day that included:

  1. a group of high school kids (10 vehicles) that were driving without licenses or registrations, babysitting their 11-10-8 year old siblings, and had cases of alcohol in their possession;
  2. a hit and run accident involving alcohol; the vehicle fled into the monument;
  3. five large groups of young people-some high school, some college with large amounts of alcohol;
  4. physical threats to rangers contacting several of these groups;
  5. caravans of vehicles (minimum of 5 and maximum of 11) entering the monument and not paying fees and speeding into the dunes;
  6. glass beer bottles being thrown at passing vehicles along the Loop Drive.

I was one of the rangers contacting a large group with my Chief Ranger, Bob Appling as we were trying to locate the hit and run offender. Things, to say the least, were getting ugly and out of control. We radioed to Otero County Sheriff Office for assistance. Sheriff Officer's, State Police, and Border Patrol all responded to a "riot" at White Sands National Monument. While not quite true at the time we radioed, it was the mood of the 65 young people in Picnic Area A that we were in contact with.

With the assistance of all the law enforcement above, we confiscated over 300 bottles of malt liquor, hard liquor, cases of beer, pack of beer, and pony kegs. Arrests were made for driving under the influence, underage possession, possession of drugs and weapons, and suspended licenses. All the alcohol from this group and several other large parties in the Loop Drive that day filled the Jeep Cherokee, the Crown Vic, and the back of the pickup (the National Parks Service law enforcement vehicles at that time).

After this particular day, Chief Ranger Bob Appling started to look through the violations and citations over the past ten years. Eighty-five percent (85%) of the violations written at White Sands National Monument involved alcohol. He noticed the spike during the months of February through May and did an extensive matrix, submitting a proposal to the Intermountain Regional Office to ban alcohol from the monument year round. Although the peak period for violations was primarily March through Memorial Day, there were other weekends and periods of high violations. The ruling from Intermountain Region stated that a ban would be in force for February 1 through May 31 each year instead of a year round ban. Their reasoning was to cover the peak periods of violations.

Over the next several years, we continued to use rangers from surrounding park units and SET squads to assist in enforcing the ban. After four years of aggressive enforcement of the alcohol ban, word got out to the students and others that "if you party at White Sands National Monument, you will get a citation or arrested."

Slowly the monument began to see more families enjoying spring break vacations while the number of alcohol violations dropped. This same pattern also holds true on Easter Sunday and Memorial Day. However, there is still alcohol consumption on these dates-just ask maintenance what they find in the trash cans-but they are no longer wading ankle-deep through beer cans strewn around a vehicle or pop-up tent on Easter Sunday. Neither is law enforcement stopping vehicles driving in the Loop and finding open containers of alcohol between the legs of drivers and passengers or breaking up 10-15 person fights due to hot words said under the influence.

Today, spring break, Easter, spring weekends, and Memorial Day are family times. This is only because of the foresight of Chief Ranger Bob Appling had to push for an alcohol ban and the subsequent aggressive enforcement of that ban by White Sands law enforcement rangers.

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