Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget!): Exit 8 – White Sands National Monument

Welcome to Exit 8 of our Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget)!

Exit 8 takes us to White Sands National Park, another natural wonder, it’s 275 square miles of wave-like dunes filled with glistening gypsum sand (though when we arrived it wasn’t glistening, more on that in a bit).

If you’ve been following along with us, much appreciated!

If you haven’t, please check out the following:
Exit 1 – Route 66
Exit 2 – Petroglyph and Aztec Ruins National Monuments
Exit 3 – Mesa Verde National Park
Exit 4 – Hovenweep National Monument
Exit 5 – Monument Valley Tribal Park
Exit 6 – Glen Canyon National Recreational Area
Exit 7 – Grand Canyon National Park

We know traveling is hard to do these days (White Sands National Park is temporarily closed), but we hope that times to travel will return soon, and that you can use these recaps of our 2019 Great American Road Trip to help plan your next stop to White Sands National Park.

Want to follow along with us on this journey? Awesome! You can follow us through RSS feed, InstagramFacebook and Twitter, or just by subscribing to receive emails when posts are release. Much obliged!

As a reminder, we’re giving you our recommendations and non-recommendations (or highlights and lowlight), for a Great American Road Trip with kids (and on a budget). This will include tips and tricks, what there is to do, how kid friendly each place is, how you can do it on a family-friendly budget, and what you’ll need for that portion of the trip.

And remember, we seriously recommend this trip with a fourth grader. The National Park Services have a wonderful program called “Every Kid Outdoors” where every fourth grader, and their family, get into the parks for free. We saved the $25 entrance fee to the park by having our fourth grader with us.

Great American Road Trip: Exit 8 – White Sands National Park

If you’ve been following along you know we last visited Grand Canyon National Park. We have close family friends that are a couple hours south of the park, and my uncle lives outside of Phoenix. We decided beforehand that it’d be nice to make some visits, plus after nine days of travel and camping, we thought two days in a hotel to regroup might feel nice. It did!

We had a nice lunch with our friends, a nice dinner with my uncle, and then a nice afternoon the following day with my uncle and cousin I hadn’t seen in a decade. It was nice!

That evening we let the kids have a few hours on their devices while the wife and I had some alone time drinking wine by the hotel pool. It was relaxing, and the perfect break before we entered the final leg of our journey home.

After our stay in Arizona we had a pit-stop to Tombstone. I’ll talk more about Tombstone in Exit 9. The wife took the wheel after Tombstone which translates into…torrential storm. As mentioned, every time she was behind the wheel we either had to battle thunderstorms, or we were in the middle of nowhere.

Not as white sands! Boo! Sad face!

We battled off-again on-again thunderstorms as we entered New Mexico. Thankfully it ended by the time we reached White Sands National Park. Unfortunately for us, the park is known for its white sand dunes and well, the storm had turned them into grey dunes, and the cloud-covered sky didn’t illuminate the beauty of the park.

SIDEBAR: Looking back on this trip we were extremely blessed that none of our park visits were impacted by the weather. We had weather on the way into New Mexico on Day 1, and weather on the way into New Mexico on Day 10, but nothing on the days we were hiking, walking, swimming … oh wait, I forgot about that sandstorm. Well other than that …

We didn’t spend a lot of our time at White Sands National Park. There were too many puddles and potholes on Dunes Drive to make the 8-mile scenic drive so we stopped at the first turnabout and toured the dunes from there.

One of my all-time favorite music videos was filmed at White Sands National Park, so I re-enacted what little I could of Boyz II Men’s “Water Runs Dry” minus the mini-orchestra – and amazing vocals, of course.

The cooler temperature, wind, grey skies and wet sands didn’t give us much opportunity to explore, so after running up and down the dunes, we headed to the local KOA where I had booked us an impromptu stay at a mini-cabin.

It was different, featured a bed-bunk set and a full bed (the younger kids had to share, again the non-perk of having more than four), we slept comfortably and after battling torrential rain, the cabin was much preferred over having to set up a tent.

White Sands National Park (3.2 out of 5):
The weather deterred our plans (and rating), but it was still neat to stop and visit, plus Lia had wanted to buy a stuffed jackrabbit since our first stop and the White Sands Visitor Center had one!

Age: All ages.

Cost: $25 per vehicle.

Badges Earned: White Sands National Monument Junior Ranger

Word of the Day: Gypsum (noun) – a common mineral that is used in a variety of products. It’s a binding material that is versatile in its many uses.

The Johnson Five Recommends: Camping in those little cabins at a KOA! It was $35 a night, so a bit more than a tent, but it was cozy and comfortable. No, there’s no shower or bathroom or mini-fridge in the cabin BUT it was a fun experience, and one that was different than the tent, van or hotel. Try it!

The Johnson Five Doesn’t Recommend: Visiting after a thunderstorm. Puddles, wet sand, cloudy skies, it’s not what the park is intended for.

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