White Sands National Monument is the most visited NPS site in New Mexico, visited by around 500,000 people each year. Many of these visits occur during the warmer months from March through August, but sledders and photographers alike can be seen throughout the dunes year round. Both crowd-lovers and solitude-seekers may use the table below to plan their trip to the monument.
Average Number of Visits (1988-2016)
Time and Dates
The monument was established by presidential proclamation on January 18, 1933 by President Herbert Hoover.
The dunefield is less than 10,000 years old.
In 2015, 497,506 visitors to White Sands National Monument spent $25,729,300 in communities near the monument. That spending supported 387 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $29,352,100.
In fiscal year 2016, White Sands National Monument recorded 528,425 visitors.
The monument employs approximately 15 permanent, 3 term, and about 10 seasonal employees.
50 volunteers donated more 10,000 hours in Fiscal Year 2016.
$1,607,600 base budget in Fiscal Year 2016.
1 backcountry campground with 10 sites, recording approximately 4,000 campers in FY 2016.
3 picnic areas
5 hiking trails representing about 9 miles (14.4841 km)
8 structures including the visitor center and seven adjacent buildings were officially designated as the White Sands National Monument Historic district in 1990.
The visitor center building complex is an excellent example of Spanish pueblo-adobe (“Pueblo-Revival”) architecture constructed during the years of the Great Depression. Built by the WPA and CCC, construction began in 1936 and was completed in 1938 at a cost of $31,600 (value 1938 dollars).
Landscape and Geography
Size of White Sands National Monument: 224 sq. mi (360 sq. km or 143,733 acres)
Size and dimensions of the gypsum dunefield in the basin:
176,000 acres = 275 sq. mi = 442 sq. km
10 x 30 mi = 16 X 48 km
Percentage of dunefield within the monument:
41% of the entire dunefield is protected by the monument, which is equal to:
115 sq. mi = 185 sq. km = 73,600 acres
59% of the dunefield is on White Sands Missile Range
Highest point in the monument is 4116 ft. or 1,255 m above sea level (asl) at NE 30, which is a former military installation.
Lowest point in the monument is 3887 ft. or 1,185 m asl at Lake Lucero.
Depth of gypsum sand across the entire field is 30 ft. (9 m) below interdunal surface.
The highest dunes are approximately 60 ft (18 m) high.
The dunefield has about 4.5 billion tons of gypsum sand, which is enough to fill 45 million box cars—a train long enough to circle the earth at the equator over 25 times!
The dunefield is so large that is can be seen from space.
When filled with water, Lake Lucero covers approximately 10 square miles (16 sq. km) at a depth of two or three feet.
Science and Research
White Sands National Monument (WHSA) is currently the research site for 14 active permits and over 30 non-active permits providing data for projects still in progress
Researchers at WHSA are studying topics such as:
Adaptation of animals to living in the white sediment of the dunes, including comprehensive studies of lizards, moths, plants, and mammals
Wind and weather patterns within the park and its effect on dune movement, sand transport, and dust storms
The formation and movement of dunes using LiDAR and other remote sensing technologies
Hydrology and groundwater movement within the park and its role in the creation of gypsum and stabilization of the dunes
The formation of gypsum and other evaporite minerals that make up the dunes within Lake Lucero and Alkali Flats
Universities, agencies and NGO’s conducting research at WHSA include:
West Virginia University
United States Geologic Survey
New Mexico State University
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources
Over 300 plants, 250 birds, 50 mammals, 30 reptiles, 7 amphibians, and 1 fish species call White Sands National Monument their home.
White animal species found at White Sands include 3 reptiles, 1 amphibian, 3 mammals, and numerous insects.
At least 45 species are endemic, meaning they are only found at White Sands and nowhere else on earth: Apache pocket mouse, White Sands wood rat, bleached earless lizard, two camel crickets, and 40 species of moths.
In 1932, large tracks, approximately 22 X 10 inches (55 X 25 cm) were discovered on the Alkali Flat.
Further investigation in 1981 identified tracks of mammoth, ancient camel, and an undetermined mammal.
Since 2007, thousands of prints have been found from dire wolf, saber tooth cat, mammoth, giant camel, and ground sloth. White Sand is now known as a mega track site with one of the largest concertation of Cenozoic footprints in the US.
8,000-12,000 years ago small bands of nomadic hunters roamed the basin tracking large game.
200 AD – 1350 AD marks the appearance of pottery and permanent living structures of the Jornada Mogollon people.
In 1450 AD, Apachean cultural groups arrive and establish villages in the Tularosa Basin.
Between the 1700’s and 1800’s the first Spanish explorers gathered salt from dried beds of Lake Otero.
On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity site, located about 100 miles (259 km) north of the monument.
White Sands’ Neighbors
Since the 1940s, cutting-edge military research and testing have been conducted within and around the monument in the Tularosa Basin
White Sands Missile Range, north and west of WHSA, was founded in 1945 to support research, development, testing, and evaluation of weapons and space systems. It covers 2.2 million acres (8903 sq. km), and is the largest installation of its kind in the western hemisphere.
Holloman Air Force Base, east of WHSA, was also established in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The base has been actively engaged in military defense readiness and development throughout WW II and during the Cold War.
WHSA shares a southern border with the Bureau of Land Management. This land is home to the Twin Buttes formation, icons of the landscape outside White Sands.
Also visit our Learn About the Park page for more White Sands specific news, media and educational resources.
Download the White Sands Cultural Landscapes Inventory which identifies and documents each landscape's location, size, physical development, condition, and other valuable information useful to park management.