White Sands is now a National Park – What’s the Difference?

White Sands National Monument is now a National Park!

Located in southern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, at the base of the Sacramento Mountains and near the town of Alamogordo and Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands has been protected as a National Monument since the Hoover Administration (1933 for our younger readers). Its 275 square miles of undulating, wave-like gypsum sand dunes make this desert the largest of its kind in the world. 

Ok, then. Great! What is the difference between a National Park and a National Monument? 

The first difference is in the reason(s) for preserving the land. National parks are protected for their scenic, inspirational, education, and recreational value. Think about places like Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yosemite. These places are incredibly scenic, with lots of hiking and other recreation available, and oh, yeah, there is a ton to learn about cultural and natural history, too! Legislation to protect a parcel of land as a National park is passed by Congress. 

Legislation to redesignate White Sands was included in the National Defense Authorization Act. Passed by the House of Representatives, and then by the Senate in mid-December, 2019. 

National monuments are locations deemed to possess objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest. These are places like Wupatki National Monument, in Arizona, which protects the remains of the ancient pueblos that were found there, as well as, say, the Statue of Liberty National Monument, which has protected ‘Lady Liberty’ since 1924. Monuments can be created by a presidential declaration under the Antiquities Act of 1906. 

The National Parks Service oversees all National parks, and some National monuments. Some of these monuments are managed by other agencies, depending upon the location and the reason for their protection. The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, and Bureau of Land Management may also supervise monuments, sometimes even as a combined effort.

This re-designation will undoubtedly increase the Park’s recognition, thus increasing its visitation from outdoor recreation enthusiasts like hikers, campers, photographers and general sightseers. This will lead to increased funds for more and more infrastructure that will be needed.

Backcountry Journeys travels to White Sands National Monument … Errr … ‘National Park’ each December as a part of our exciting Bosque Del Apache & White Sands photo tour. The change from a National monument to National park won’t make much of a difference for us, with the exception of perhaps seeing more infrastructure and people. Nothing should be different with regard to why we visit. The breathtaking landscapes at White Sands will still provide us excellent chances to create haunting and interesting images, in addition to photographing the Sandhill cranes and Snow geese at Bosque. Nevertheless, we are excited for White Sands and its new designation! 

Kenton Krueger







Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and has had several of his writings and photographs published in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.