After leaving Carlsbad, the route typically takes you up over the mountains to the White Sands National Monument. I have to say this may have been the highlight of our trip – and we recommend you make the visit at least once in your life if you can. We were worried it was going to be a small patch of dunes and overrated. But it is an immense area for miles of nothing but beautiful, pure white sand stretching all of the way to the mountains in the far distance.
For our drive, we had to head through the mountains where you will see beautiful forests and wildlife as you drive until you reach Cloudcroft. Cloudcroft is a small, local ski town with some small shops. By the time we visited, the snow had already melted and the town was pretty empty so we picked up lunches at a shop in town for later and stopped by the Off the Beaten Path store to look at local items. But we did get one great recommendation which was to buy Pledge cleaner for the sleds at White Sands. They sell wax for the boards there but it does not work nearly as well as Pledge spray on the bottoms of your sleds so we made a quick stop at the Family Dollar on our way out of town.
Travel Tip: There is a missile range right next to the monument and once or twice a year they will shut down the road to the Monument. Be sure to check before you go so you don’t drive all of the way there and cannot actually get in to see them.
Upon arriving at White Sands, you can either purchase sleds (and sell them back for a small refund) or rent sleds. There is also a large gift shop as well for those trying to find something to remember the trip. Once you start driving back into the dunes, you should resist the urge to stop at the first dunes you see. The road heads quite a ways back and you will likely find an area all to yourself with your own white sand dunes.
Sliding down the dunes takes a try or two as you learn to keep your feet up and your body straight to build speed. And you’ll want to quickly apply the Pledge spray between runs. It is also quite a workout to climb back up the sand dunes each time but we figured out it was easier if you walked in the same steps you had used the time before. It will only take an hour or two to get a good workout.
After sledding, we used one of the modern looking picnic tables made from curved corrugated sheet medal to block the sand (see link below) which are located throughout the area. We were then heading to Silver City for the night. But if you enjoy unique Americana, there is one more stop along the highway as you drive. At a rest stop outside of Las Cruces, you can find the Recycled Roadrunner made entirely of recycled materials. With kids, we try to find fun places like this for a quick photo to stretch our legs.
Silver City is the one portion of the trip you may not want to take. It is a bit out of the way (adding about an hour each way to the drive to Tucson). However, we had done so much with our kids to this point, we wanted to enjoy a nice evening for us and Silver City has been noted as a hidden gem for fine dining in a small town. The New York Times wrote an article below on the restaurants and chefs of Silver City so we were willing to make the detour. If you enjoy art, the town is also noted for the galleries lining the Texas and Yankee streets of town.
The restaurants with the most acclaim were Curious Kumquat, Tre Rosat and 1zero6, We chose Curious Kumquat which boasted a James Beard Award winning chef and prix fixe six-course meal – which was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, the chef told us he was moving to St. Louis to be with family so the restaurant has now closed but Tre Rosat and 1zero6 are still there. Please note, the restaurants operate under very peculiar days and times so you’ll want to be sure they match your travel dates if you are planning a dinner.
For accommodations, we stayed at the Bear Mountain Lodge. This is a very artistic/yoga style of hotel (think Sedona) so it may not be the best fit if you are looking for a late night or have kids with you. The Lodge is located in a remote area of town and surrounded by land in all directions. During our stay, they were finishing filming for a movie with J.K. Simmons (Juno, Whiplash, etc.) but we did not ever see the crew as we arrived late and left early. The Lodge provides breakfast with your stay and you can choose to stay and visit the art galleries along the corner of Texas and Yankee streets.
And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itinerary for New Mexico/Arizona or Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce or destination notes for Carlsbad Caverns, Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Zion/Bryce Canyon and Albuquerque.