Four More Desert Playgrounds

New Mexico: White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Park     Photo: PhotoDisc

When perched atop a dune at White Sands National Monument, your first impression is that you're standing in the world's biggest sandbox. Your second impression—if you're like me—is that you must run, roll, and dive among the dunes until you fall down, exhausted and sand-encrusted.

White gypsum sand, constantly rearranged by strong westerly winds, covers nearly 275 square miles. The best hike is the 4.6-mile trail to Alkali Flat. Camp anywhere off the trail, but leave some bread crumbs: It's frighteningly easy to get lost.
SLEEP: Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa is in downtown Truth or Consequences—the only U.S. town named after a game show—a one-and-a-half-hour drive northwest of White Sands. Serge Raoul (famous for his SoHo bistro, Raoul's) and his brother spent three years restoring the place. The 16 rooms have hardwood floors and handcrafted furniture, and an open-air tub pipes water in from the town's hot springs. The spa menu includes salt scrubs and massages, which run $60 to $100. (Doubles, $95–$125; 505-894-6976, www.sierragrandelodge.com)
PLAY: Buy a plastic saucer ($9.75) at White Sands Concessions, behind the visitor center, and sled the dunes like a grammar-schooler on a snow day.
EAT: Sierra Grande's restaurant features many of the signature dishes from Raoul's, in New York, including steak au poivre.

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