The otherworldly terrain of the White Sands National Monument could hardly be more different from the pine forests of Ruidoso, only 90 minutes away. A loop drive starts in a creamy landscape dotted with scrub brush, which becomes increasingly desolate and white as you reach the heart of the park. Here, even the road turns pale, and spectacular gleaming dunes of pure gypsum sand extend for miles toward mountains on the horizon. A short boardwalk affords an easy foray into the landscape at one point, and the longer nature hike is also worthwhile. Some families even use saucer-style sleds (available at the visitor’s center) to slide down the dunes as though they were snow-covered hills. I found it satisfying enough to take off my shoes and climb a dune barefoot, digging my toes into the incongruously cool sand as I surveyed the astonishing scenery in every direction.