White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument

Park Regulations & Safety

Desert Safety

Have a Safe Trip!!

Please take these words seriously. There are real dangers when you recreate on public land, but you can reduce or avoid these dangers by understanding your outdoor environment and planning accordingly. Returning from a trip safely and uninjured will certainly make the trip more rewarding.


Planning before you depart is the most critical factor in having a safe trip. Know where you are going, who you are going with, and when you will return. Let somebody know where you will be and when to expect your return. Remember, there is safely in numbers, and having a partner for your outdoor activities will improve safety for both of you. Take maps and a compass, and know how to use them. Talk to experts from land management agencies to learn about local conditions where you are going.


The most critical factor for human survival is water. You can live for weeks without food, but only a few days without water. Always carry extra water with you, whether you are driving, hiking, biking, or riding. Desert heat can lead to dangerous dehydration very rapidly. If you become stranded, conserve your water by traveling at night or during the cooler times of the day or night in the summer and resting in the shade during the hottest periods. Most people need at least two gallons of water per day in the summer heat. It is a good idea to always keep a few gallons of extra water in your vehicle regardless of the weather or time of year. If you are backpacking, carry a water filter since you will not find water that is safe to drink.


While a person can live without food for weeks, food is important. Food maintains your energy level, which helps you deal with emergency situations, keeps your morale up and helps you stay warm in the winter. Keep emergency high energy food with you like granola bars or energy bars.


Take appropriate clothing with you for the full range of possible weather conditions that you may encounter on your trip. Boots will help protect your feet. Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen will help protect you from the sun's heat and damaging radiation.

In the desert, temperatures can vary up to 500 between day and night. When you go out in pleasant conditions, cold fronts and precipitation can cause sudden drops in temperature. An extra shirt, sweater, or light jacket and a water repellent layer can keep you comfortable in miserably cold weather.

Wool clothes are excellent in rain or snow because wool retains its insulating quality, even when wet.

In the summer, wear loose fitting, light colored cotton clothing. Light colors reflect light and heat. Cotton allows air to pass through so that

evaporation will keep your skin temperature down. Splashing a little water on your clothes will provide evaporative cooling that can help keep you comfortable.

It is a good idea to keep rain gear in your vehicle or pack at all times, since staying dry is the most important part of staying warm. A slicker or poncho take up very little space, but is invaluable if a drenching summer thunderstorm occurs.

Getting Lost

If you get lost, it is generally better to stay where you are than to wander all over. A mirror or a piece of aluminum foil can be valuable for flashing sunlight toward potential rescuers. Explain to children the importance of staying put and conserving their energy if they are lost, and of not running from strangers. Tell children that "when they are lost", they need to not be scared of strangers since the searchers who finds them will probably not be someone they know.

Heat & Cold

Exposure to heat can cause cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Painful muscle spasms, usually in the leg and abdomen, are the first signs of heat stress.

Heat exhaustion is more severe. Symptoms include cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin; and headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness and exhaustion. Heat stroke is a severe heat emergency characterized by hot, dry red skin; unconsciousness, rapid weak pulse and rapid shallow breathing. For any heat stress, get the victim to rest in a cool location, and give them a small amount of water or sports drink. Loosen tight clothing and apply cool wet cloth to their skin. DO NOT give salt tablets or salt water. If a heat stress victim refuses water, vomits or loses consciousness continue to cool their body and get them emergency medical care.

Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature that can happen quickly when someone gets wet or when it is very windy. Shivering numbness, a blank look, and unconsciousness are signs of hypothermia. Get the victim out of the cold and out of wet clothes. Dry the person and warm them gradually in dry clothing or blankets. If the victim has lost consciousness or has stopped breathing, get them emergency medical care.


Lightning kills approximately 75 people each year in the United States. Lightning occurs frequently in the desert during thunderstorms, even if no rain is falling. If you see gathering storm clouds or lightning, or hear thunder, there is a growing risk that lightning could strike. Take cover in a vehicle or building if possible. Otherwise, move to low areas like canyon bottoms. Do not take cover under tall trees, but if you are seeking shelter from the rain, choose a tree that tops out below the canyon sides and below other trees. If you are in a barren area and lightning is getting close, lay flat on the ground in a depression. You can tell how close lightning is by counting the seconds between the time you see the lightning and hear the thunder. The lightning is a thousand feet away for each second you count. Take cover when lightning is within three miles (15 seconds). Do not wait for the lightning to get dangerously close before you decide to take cover

Rattlesnakes and Other Reptiles

Rattlesnakes are the only venomous snakes in New Mexico except for the Arizona corral snake. Many harmless and beneficial snakes are killed each year because they mimic coral snakes or act like rattlesnakes. All rattlesnakes are venomous, with larger animals being generally more dangerous because they can deliver more venom. Venoms very in strength among different species, among individuals within a species, and even at different times for an individual snake. Approximately half of the rattlesnakes' bites are dry, meaning they don't always inject venom to protect themselves.

This is advantageous to the snakes, since they need their venom to catch food.

Snakebites kill less than 20 people per year in the United States. Most people who get bitten by snakes are trying to tease, catch or kill them. Remember rattlesnakes can be found anywhere in New Mexico, from the middle of cities to wild lands from deserts to grasslands to mountains. The best snakebite safety is to avoid being bitten. Watch where you walk, put your hands and sit. Don't step over rocks or logs or through thick vegetation where visibility is poor. If you see a snake, leave it alone and it will leave you alone. Believe it or not, snakes are more scared of you than you are of them.

If someone is bitten it is important for them to remain calm and seek immediate medical attention. The bite should not be cut into, which can cause far more severe damage to blood vessels, connective tissue and muscles than the snakebite itself. The site of the bite should be kept below the level of the heart. Commercial snakebite kits are fairly worthless or even dangerous, since they contains razor blade that people use to cut into themselves. Also, the suction cup is not strong enough to remove venom, which binds instantly to the victim's tissues. A restrictive bandage may be used, but never apply a tourniquet unless you are sure it is necessary to sacrifice a limb to save a life. Bring the snake along for identification if you can do so safely, even just the tail end of the snake. Remember that a dead rattlesnake can still give a lethal bite.

Spiders and Other Arachnids

Venomous spiders, scorpions and insects are common residents in New Mexico. If you are bitten or stung by one, seek medical attention. Bring the animal along for identification if you can do so safely.

The black widow is the most common venomous spider in this area and is responsible for about half of all venomous spider bites in the United States. It has a large, shiny black body with a red hourglass on the belly, and may have white and red markings on the back. It builds a messy-looking web under rocks, logs and other debris. Other venomous spiders in New Mexico include the brown recluse and many species of small spiders

Scorpions are abundant in the desert. The scorpions in this area do not have the high potency venom of those in some other parts of the world, but a sting can be dangerous to someone who is allergic to the venom. Scorpion stings are generally quite painful for a short time.

Park Regulations

White Sands National Monument is a protected natural area.

Removal or disturbance of archeological or natural objects, including sand, selenite crystals, plants and animals, is prohibited.

Pets must be leashed or under physical constraint at all times.

Speed limits are posted and enforced. Driving on the dunes is not permitted. Stay on the road and park only in established parking areas. Keep vehicles locked at all times.

Help keep White Sands clean by using trash containers and fireplaces. Ground fires are prohibited.

Alcohol is prohibited within the park from February 1 through May 31. No glass bottles or kegs are allowed at any time.

Fireworks are prohibited within the park.

Alcohol Regulations

Alcohol is prohibited within the park during the months of February, March, April and May.

No glass bottles or kegs are allowed at any time of year.

Leave No Trace

With increasing visitor use, both day and overnight, it is important to minimize our impacts and Leave No Trace of our visits to wilderness, parks and other special places. Trips that include awareness and the use of minimum impact practices conserve natural conditions of the outdoors which make the adventure enjoyable and allow others the same experience.

Leave No Trace is simple, whether you are hiking or camping in the park's backcountry campground. At its heart it is a set of seven principles which can be applied in any natural setting to minimize human impacts on the environment. Following the Leave No Trace principles and combining them with your personal judgment, awareness, and experience will help protect precious park natural and cultural resources and preserve the park experience for you and for future visitors.

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable Surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Please learn and practice Leave No Trace skills and ethics and pass them on to those you come in contact with. It's easy to enjoy and protect the park simultaneously.

For more information stop by the park's Visitor Center, or visit the Leave No Trace website.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Know and obey the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
  • Be physically and mentally ready for your trip.
  • Know the ability of every member of you group.
  • Be informed of current weather conditions and other area information.
  • Know and accept risks associated with backcountry experiences.
  • Take responsibility for yourself and your group.
  • Always leave an itinerary with someone at home.
  • Choose proper equipment and clothing in subdued colors.
  • Plan your meals and repackage food into reusable containers.

Travel and Camp on Renewable Surfaces

While Traveling:

  • Hike on the open sand along the edge of the dunes.

·         When traveling cross-country, avoid the fragile interdune areas with their easily damaged cryptobiotic crusts (dark, bumpy surface in these low lying areas).

At Camp:

  • Be careful were you pitch your tent. Camp in the camp area indicated on your permit.
  • Restrict activities to the area where vegetation is absent.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • There are pit toilets near the trailhead to the backcountry sites. Use them.
  • If there are no pit toilets nearby, urinate or defecate at least 100 feet (35 adult paces) from camp, or trails.
  • Urinate on the sand and then cover it with a layer of fresh sand. Do not urinate on or near plants; it may interfere with wildlife’s use of the plant for food or shelter.
  • Deposit human waste in cat holes dug 6-8 inches deep. Carry a small garden trowel or lightweight scoop for digging. Cover and disguise the cat hole when finished, or pack out solid waste.
  • Use toilet paper sparingly and pack it out along with sanitary napkins and tampons in an airtight container.
  • When washing your dishes and yourself, use small amounts, if any, of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
  • Strain food scraps from wash water and pack them out.
  • Pack everything you bring into the backcountry back out.
  • Inspect your campsite for trash and evidence or your stay. Pack out all trash: Yours and others'.

Leave What You Find

  • Treat our natural heritage with respect. Leave plants, rocks, and historical artifacts as you find them.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site should not be necessary. Don't build structures or dig trenches.
  • Let nature's sounds prevail. Speak softly and avoid making loud noises. Allow for others to enjoy the peace and solitude of being in the backcountry.
  • SAFETY NOTE: The monument is surrounded by an active missile range and missile debris falls into the dune field and gets buried before it can be removed. For your safety, do not touch any such items.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires are NOT allowed. Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Always use a lightweight, portable stove for cooking.
  • Enjoy the sounds and wonders of the darkness, or use a candle lantern instead of a fire.

Respect Wildlife

  • Enjoy wildlife at a distance.
  • Never feed wildlife.
  • Protect wildlife, store your food and scented items securely.
  • Minimize noise.
  • Avoid sensitive habitat.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Visit the backcountry in small parties. More people means more impact.
  • Avoid popular areas during times of high use.
  • Avoid conflicts.
  • Minimize noise.
  • Keep a low profile.
  • Take breaks and rest well off the trail, avoid the fragile interdune areas with their easily damaged cryptobiotic crusts.
  • Yield to horse traffic.

Leave No Trace is a national program which promotes the protection of our nation's wildlands through education, research, and partnerships. Leave No Trace teaches minimum impact hiking and camping skills and wildland ethics and builds awareness, appreciation, and respect for our public recreation places. The four federal land management agencies: the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all promote the Leave No Trace message. Working with outdoor retailers, educators, and user groups these federal agencies are helping to make Leave No Trace the common language for all outdoor enthusiasts.



Pets are allowed in the park. They must be on a leash (no longer than six feet) at all times when outside of vehicles. Pets are not allowed in buildings (except seeing-eye dogs). Please clean up after your animals.

Your Safety

Safety Tips

  • Do not stop on the roadway; pull off the road into an established parking area before stopping.
  • The gypsum-surfaced portion of the dunes drive can be slick when wet--drive carefully.
  • Pedestrians in picnic areas should be careful of heavy traffic. WATCH YOUR CHILDREN.
  • Do not tunnel into sand dunes. Tunnels collapse easily and can cause suffocation. Sand sledding can cause injuries--be careful. Never sand surf near the road.
  • It is easy to become disoriented when hiking in the dunes. Do not hike alone. When hiking off-trail, take a map and compass and orient youself to surrounding landmarks. Take plenty of water--one gallon per person is recommended.
  • The white sands reflect sunlight. Use sunblock to cover all areas of exposed skin. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.

More information on desert safety.

Permits for Special Activities

Individuals or groups who wish to use the park for special purposes, including commercial photography, scientific research, weddings, large group picnics, sporting events, pageants, church services, public spectator attractions, entertainment, ceremonies , First Amendment activities, or anyone wishing to use a public address system require a Special Use Permit.

Special Use Permits

Individuals or groups who wish to use the park for special purposes, including commercial photography, scientific research, weddings, large group picnics, sporting events, pageants, church services, public spectator attractions, entertainment, ceremonies , First Amendment activities, or anyone wishing to use a public address system require a Special Use Permit.

Special Use Permits are also required for anyone wishing to enter the park before normal opening time or after normal closing time.