White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

It is afternoon in the desert. The air chills already, the winds kick up, and the risk of losing one’s way is real. So I take a compass to visit this place near where I was born. White Sands, the world’s largest formation of gypsum sand dunes, has been a national park since 1933. White posts with orange reflective tape mark a path into 275 square miles of rising and falling white sand, and a sign warns hikers to turn back if the wind begins to blow. Wind erases footprints, and disorientation is common. One problem: reading compasses is not my strong suit.

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