White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico

White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico


White Sands National Monument – a 275 square mile park of blistering white gypsum dunes – is one of the most stunning sights in New Mexico, but it shares its name with a rather less salubrious monument – the White Sands Missile Range and its onsite museum.


Halfway between the National Park dunes and Alamagordo, White Sands is the largest military installation in the US (over 3000 square miles) and in 1945 was the test site for the atomic bomb (at the Trinity Site area).


The museum, at the entrance to the range, has a front yard filled with over 50 missiles that were developed or tested at the range, and a building tracing the history of the site, and what it’s produced, from early missiles to weapons used in the Gulf War and the most recent developments.



Missiles galore...don't worry none of them work.

Missiles galore…don’t worry, none of them work


One room is dedicated to the paintings of a Vietnam veteran, but the rest is all missiles, operating systems and their related accoutrements – like pieces of metal cleft in two by lasers.


There’s a separate section reserved for the story of the Trinity Site and the atomic bomb, which is nothing if not humbling, even if there’s no mention of the effects it wrought. Out in the gift shop, you can even buy atomic bomb t-shirts.


To go one stage further on your atomic pilgrimage, Ground Zero at the Trinity Site itself (a couple of hours north of the museum) is opened for two days a year – the first Saturdays in April and October.



View U.S. history at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico

View U.S. history up close at the White Sands Missile Range


The area around the museum is spookily desolate, although there’s plenty of traffic making its way further into the site. Make sure you have your ID and car registration docs with you when visiting the museum (if you’re not a US citizen, you’ll need a passport, and if you’re hiring a car, you need the rental documents).


You’ll need to park outside the range and go in on foot – and there are plenty of instructions about which directions you can and can’t look in, and where you mustn’t take photos. Ignore them at your peril!


Images: Julia Buckley

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