• The dunes in soft light

    White Sands

    National Monument New Mexico

Your Safety

Staying Safe

Staying safe while out in the dunes is incredibly important. It is very easy to become dehydrated or get lost. On rare occassions, you may even run across a dangerous animal. To help ensure that you have an enjoyable visit to the dunes, please read and follow the following guidelines.


Temperatures in the dunefield can get quite high during the summer months. As a result, dehydration and heat illness pose a very real risk.

Avoid hiking longer trails during the hottest times of the day (between 10am to 5pm) and exercise caution on the shorter trails.

The hot weather will dehydrate you very quickly. Because sweat evaporates faster in the dry desert air, it may feel cooler than it really is especially if you are used to a more humid climate. It is very important to that you recognize the signs of dehydration and what to do if you think you are dehydrated.


  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Sleepiness or tiredness
  • Thirst
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache


  • Drink plenty of fuids and eat food high in water content, such as fruits
  • Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink! You are already becoming dehydrated at this point. Drink because you know you should, not because you are thirsty.
  • When hiking or doing other strenuous activities, it is important to drink lots of water to keep your body temperature low and replace what you lose from sweating.

If you are dehydrated"

  • Drink more fluids
  • If you are experiencing severe dehydration, seek immediate medial attention.

Heat Illness
There are three types of heat illness and all three should be taken very seriously. They are caused by dehydration and prolonged exposure to high temperatures, often while performing strenuous activities.

  • Heat Stress
    Heat stress is the least severe of the three. Symptoms include painful muscle spasms,
    usually in the legs and abdomen. If left untreated, it will progress to the next stage, heat exhaustion.
  • Heat Exhaustion
    Heat exhaustion is the next stage. In addition to the above symptoms, heat exhaustion includes skin that is pale, cool, moist, or flushed. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, and exhaustion are also common. Left untreated, heat exhaustion will progress to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition.
  • Heat Stroke
    Heat stroke is by far the most severe of the three. Left untreated, it can result in death. Symptoms include hot, dry, red skin, unconsciousness, a rapid weak pulse, and shallow breathing. If you believe that you are someone with your are experience heat stroke, do not delay—seek medical attention immediately!

Preventing Heat Illness:
Drinking lots of water helps to reduce your body temperature and reduces the risk of heat illness. We cannot stress enough how important staying hydrated is. Take plenty of rest breaks and stay in the shade where possible. Dress appropriately for the weather, wearing light, loose clothing. Pants and long-sleeves are recommended to help protect your skin from the sun. Covering the head and neck will help regulate body temperature, too.

What to do:
Get to a cool location as soon as possible. If you are out in the dunefield, sit in your car with the air conditioner running. Sip on water or sports drinks to help rehydrate yourself. Loosen any tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths or napkins to the skin. DO NOT give salt tablets to anyone suffering from heat illness.

If the victim vomits, refuses water, or loses consciousness, seek immediate medical attention. This is an emergency condition that can be fatal!


It may be hard to believe, by hypothermia can happen in the desert. During the winter, daytime temperatures usually hover around 55ºF (15ºC) but temperatures can plummet drastically after dark. Although winter nightime temperatures in the dunefield usually average around 30ºF (-1º C), it has dipped as low as -25ºF (-32ºC).


  • Shivering
  • Numbness in extremities like toes, feet, fingers and hands.
  • Unconsciousness


  • Dress appropriately for the weather. Wear gloves, a heavy jacket and cover your neck and head to help regulate body temperature.

What to do:
Contact emergency services immediately if you suspect yourself or someone with you of going into hypothermia. Get the victim to a warm place. Remove any wet clothing as soon as possible.


Lightning storms rolling across the basin are always spectacular displays. However, they can also be incredibly dangerous in the dunefield.

What to look for:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Lightning often occurs in the desert during thunderstorms, even if there is no rain.
  • Be on the watch for gaterhing storms and listen for thunder.

What to do:

  • If possible, go indoors to to your vehicle.
  • Avoid standing on top of a dune. Lightning tends to strike water and the tallest thing around. Since humans are 70% water and there are no tall trees in the dunefield, standing on top of a dune makes you an easy target for lightning.
  • If you cannot get out of the dunefield before a storm arrives, crouch down between the dunes with your feet together.

Insects and Things That Bite

Bugs, Bees and Other Things
The dunefield is home to many species of animals. Some of them are dangerous while others are not. Below is a list of the most common animals that either bite or could be potentially dangerous. While it is rare that you would run into most of these, it is good to be aware of their presence. And remember, this is their home and you are visiting it. They have every right to be left alone.

Did You Know?