White Sands National Monument
Dunes?! Sand Dunes?! White Sand Dunes?! Step back!
White Sands National Monument rests in a war practice zone. It can be closed due to missile testing and you are advised not to touch un-identifiable objects as they may be unexploded ordinances. Check with the park for scheduled closures.
There is not much to do in White Sands. A single road runs down the middle of the park and, carved into the gypsum, boy is it slippery-when-wet! The 16-mile driving loop hosts 5 trailheads boasting a total of 8.5 miles of trail. Off-trail hiking, though possible, is discouraged due to the severe disorientation that can occur. All you see is white, white, white. Oh, and the mountains in the distance.
Hiking through sand is slower than dirt so plan accordingly, but I doubt you need more than a day here. If you do plan on spending a night, there are 10 backcountry camps to stargaze from. There is also the $5/night BLM Aguirre Springs Campground 30 miles to the East in the Organ Mountains.
You can also sled the dunes; major fun for kids. Fortunately, it was wet and windy while we were there so there were no kids in sight. Did I say fortunately? Oops. The downside to the peace and quiet was that the park could more aptly be named the Grey Sands National Monument.
If you are heading West after White Sands, try your gosh darn hardest to go through Phoenix, AZ. Green New American Vegetarian Restaurant was AMAZING! We recommend the Big Wac because it is junk food heaven. The No Harm Chicken Parm Po-boy was also amazingly delicious. And the fries! Shoestring delights. Get a Tsoynami next door at Nami for dessert. This vegan soft serve is the best we have had and their mix-ins send it over the moon.
You have 6 hours to stop groaning about your over-consumption as you drive to Joshua Tree National Park from Phoenix.
Joshua Tree National Park
There are many campgrounds in the park. We chose Cottonwood Campground ($15/night) because it is at a low elevation. There is a BLM camp at an even lower elevation and price point (free) just outside the South entrance, but it lacks the water and toilet.
We only spent one full day in the park so we did the tourist thing and drove from interpretive sign to nature trail.
Scariest hike? The Cholla Garden. These fluffy-looking bastards will barb you and never let go!!! Just ask Luke.
If you need a cool-down from the desert air, you can hike to one of several palm oases. We hiked out to 49 Palm Oasis and recommend this easy trail. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you first catch a glimpse of the oasis at the end of the 1.5 mile (one way) trail. Please be a good hiker and stay on the trail and out of the water, as the oasis is very fragile.
Since we only had that day in Joshie, we have little else to stay other than, “We need to go back!”