Gypsum dunes at White Sands National Park.
Set an hour-and-a-half north of El Paso, this town boasts connections to space and atomic history and is home to one of New Mexico's most iconic — and enchanting — outdoor attractions.
One of the globe's greatest natural wonders lies just over 50 miles north of Las Cruces toward Alamogordo along U.S. 70. White Sands National Park became the country's newest national park in late 2019 — and for good reason. The park protects some 275 square miles of gypsum dunes that crest as high as 40 feet tall. The best way to explore the park is along Heart of the Dunes Drive, but you'll soon find yourself out of the car and walking or sledding the irresistible dunes. Rangers guide walks exploring the unique ecology here and to Lake Lucero, where a dry crystalline lakebed birthed the dunes.
Access to the park might be temporarily interrupted by testing at White Sands Missile Range, one of the world's largest and top research facilities. Indeed, this corner of New Mexico has a long connection to flight. American engineer Robert Goddard, a Roswell, New Mexico, resident, tested the world's first liquid-fueled rockets in the area. The New Mexico Museum of Space History chronicles his experiments and the state's other surprising connections to the space race.
White Sands National Monument
This monument covers more than 275 square miles of southeastern New Mexico with the world's largest gypsum dune field. The 8-mile Dunes Drive leads into the Heart of the Sands for day hikes, primitive camping, and sledding down the glistening dunes that crest at 40 feet high. (You can buy a plastic disc at the visitors center.) Plan ahead for full-moon hikes and bike rides, sunset photography tours, and guided hikes to Lake Lucero, where the dune fields began. Hot air balloons lift off in a dazzling display above the dunes each September during the White Sands Hot Air Balloon Invitational.
The New Mexico Museum of Space History
Learn more about New Mexico's connections to space exploration through historical exhibitions and artifacts, including a model of the International Space Station and the International Space Hall of Fame.
Alameda Park Zoo
This wildly wonderful destination celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2018 and is considered to be the oldest zoo in the Southwest. Many of the animals you'll see — including monkeys, antelopes, and kangaroos — are threatened species or part of a conservation program.
Did You Know?
Alamogordo is home to the world's largest pistachio, a man-made roadside attraction located along Highway 54. Tim McGinn, the owner of the on-site pistachio and grape orchards, erected the 30-foot-tall sculpture to honor the memory of his late father, who founded the farm.