White hot stuff – Hiking Alkali Flats with Trail Snails

This feels like walking in soft marshmallows,” murmured Carolyn Dullum.There’s nothing like slow motion squish-walking down a gypsum dune.

Trail Snails, a local hiking group, trek a most unusual hike into the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument, about an hour and a half from Ruidoso, New Mexico.

“I’ve hiked Alkali Flats many times,” said Barbara Willard, today’s leader. “It’s different. And when you get away from the picnic areas, you hear nothing. It’s so peaceful.”

And unique, too. Unlike hiking trails that are clearly defined in a forest or woodland setting, Alkali Flats Trail is marked only by tall orange markers stuck in dunes about a tenth of a mile apart. To hike the five-mile trail, one simply sights the next orange marker and gets there any way one wishes.

“Over and down the dunes, around the dunes, it doesn’t matter. Pick your own path.”

Another unique feature of Alkali Flats trail is that it’s footwear-optional. Mike Bilbo cheerfully shed his boots and socks and blissfully squished his toes in the soft, cool, moist gypsum sand. “You get traction and a pedicure at the same time,” he teased.

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