One of the greatest opportunities that comes with winter is the ability to experience some southern locations without getting scorched. While they might look cool, the White Sands National Monument is one of these sizzling destinations. However, in the winter the mild and sunny weather is very pleasant, likely much more so than they cold gray winter skies at home. Often described as ‘otherworldly’ and likened to walking on the moon, this New Mexico natural adventure is unlike any other. The 73,600 acres of windswept dunes are breathtaking, surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert and set against a backdrop of the San Andres and Sacramento mountains in the distance. This expanse of uninhabited land as well as the dunes’ role as sound barriers create the effect of eerie isolation, a bizarrely enchanting experience.
There are many exciting ways to traverse this desert landscape. Among them is hiking any one of the many trails that offer a wide range of experiences and levels of difficulty. A favorite is the 4.6-mile Alkali Flat Trail, a well-marked guided tour of these endless dunes. Midnight hikes are a must on a visit here, where the moonlit dunes of reflective sand further the feeling of exploring another planet. Full of unusual experiences, sledding down the dunes is another popular activity. A visit in the winter allows comfortable daytime sunbathing as well, without getting fried. Camping is $3 per person per night and reservations can be made up to the last hour before sunset, encouraging spontaneity and adventure.
While in the neighborhood, another natural wonder to check out is the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, about 175 miles southeast of the White Sands. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this 100-mile long network of caves are some of the largest in the world. At just $6 admission per person, visitors have the option of either a guided tour or individual exploration. Paved, well-lit paths offer exciting but safe views of breathtaking rock formations in rooms as tall as 200 feet. From vast, moon-like gypsum dunes to deep, mysterious caverns, there is no better time to experience the natural wonders of the southwest than as an escape from harsh winter weather.