New Mexico's White Sands becomes the newest U.S. national park
The glistening white sand of New Mexico's Tularosa Basin has become the newest destination in the U.S. National Park System. On Dec. 20, 2019, legislation transformed New Mexico's White Sands National Monument into the 62nd national park. In guidebooks, this park will now be listed among stalwarts like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
Not just any place can make it to the big leagues and become a national park. To make the cut, the scenery must be incredible; the area must include some type of natural wonder. The region must also provide recreational value for visitors.
White Sands in southern New Mexico near Holloman Air Force Base, has always been a special spot. On Jan. 18, 1933, President Herbert Hoover set out to preserve this sandy landscape because of its "scenic, scientific and educational interest." Now, it's a U.S. national park.
Related: How to visit America's national parks for less
What's special about White Sands?
White Sands covers 275 square miles of desert in New Mexico's Tularosa Basin, where the winds of time have created wave-like dunes of gypsum sand that sparkle brightly in the sun.
Park goers come to see the sand formations, hike, drive or bike along the scenic eight-mile Dunes Drive. they can also ride horses and even sled down the dunes. (The gift shop sells plastic saucers specifically for sledding.)
Related: Top national parks to visit before your kids leave the house
Rangers lead a variety of programs, including a sunset stroll, full moon hike and also -- once a month -- tours at nearby Lake Lucero, where you can see selenite crystals that are up to two feet long. There are also some audio tours you can pick up at the visitor center, including one about the native plants in this area of the Chihuahuan Desert.
There's also on-site camping (although it's limited to 10 highly sought-after campsites).
El Paso International Airport (ELP) is the closest airport, about 85 miles south of White Sands. The White Sands Visitor Center and Dunes Drive is off U.S. Route 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, New Mexico.