Sunset at White Sands National Park

Visiting White Sands National Monument in February 2021

In early August I had the opportunity to visit White Sands National Park in the southeast corner of New Mexico.  The Park was originally designated White Sands National Monument on January 18, 1933 by then President Herbert Hoover. On December 20, 2019, President Donald Trump redesignated it the National Park status. This is my third visit to the park in the past decade, but this time it was a very special visit as we arrived there just before sunset and got to experience an amazing sunset along with a bright moon over the white sands.

White Sands National Park at dusk

The park, which is close to the New Mexico cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces covers nearly 275 square miles of desert.  It is a great place to visit as one can drive into the heart of the marvelously white sand dunes which are comprised of gypsum crystals and is the largest dunefield of its kind on Earth. Some of the dunes are over 60 feet in height!

Yucca peak through the white sands

I arrived with my sister Sherry, who we picked up in Keller, Texas on our way to Tucson.  My daughter Marissa also joined me on this trip.  We ventured through the west Texas desert and then took US Route 82 through Artesia New Mexico and up into the high mountains of Lincoln National Forest through the lovely community of Cloudcroft before dropping down into the desert through Alamogordo and onto US Highway 70, finally arriving just as the sun was on its way out.

A white sand-covered road leads visitors into the heart of the National Park

A visitor walks across one of the many high dunes

As we drove into the heart of the park, there were already dozens of visitors set up to witness the sunset.  Some were up on the dunes, having hiked up through the sand…many doing so barefoot.  Sherry and Marissa joined many of them upon the dunes while I drove around for views and scenic photos.

Some visitors play on the sand as the sun began to drop.

Taking in the view

Waiting for sunset atop a dune

Sky colors

As the sun began to go down, the sky began to change colors and shadows across the dunes became more pronounced.  It was lovely to see the changes in the sky and on the ground.

Sunbeams began to appear

Sky Colors and Shadows in the sand

Yellow sky and gray sands

Soon we got the hoped for sunset and, with the clouds, we got some wonderful sunbeams, which are technically referred to as crepuscular rays. They spread across the sky as seen below.

Crepuscular rays over White Sands as seen from the road

A yucca plant enjoys the setting sun over the white sand.

Amazing sunbeams over the white sands

The sun leaves a colorful sky as it drops beyond the horizon

Sun and sand provide a vivid contrast

Visitors get a glimpse of the amazing sunset

The sunset was spectacular, but we also were given a totally unexpected and rare treat.  On the opposite side of the sunset we also got a rare glimpse of anticrepuscular rays!  This phenomena is a result of the orientation of clouds and the rays appear opposite of the sun.  These rays are actually parallel but appear to join together on the horizon as a visual illusion due to linear perspective.

A giant beam of light opposite the sun spanned across the sky.

Anticrepuscular rays on the horizon

But, our evening wasn’t finished as the moon rose opposite the sun and brightened the sky in a different way.  We were able to enjoy the moonlight as we exited the park.

Moonlight over White Sands

Another moon shot over the white sand.

Finally, the clouds moved away and I was able to use my 500mm lens to capture a good shot of the moon as we departed the park

We completed our visit, exited the park and made the thirty minute drive to Las Cruces for our overnight stay before our trip to Tucson the next day.  This turned out to be a very memorable experience.  Nature can really put on a show!

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