White Sands Missile Range is the largest military installation in the US with over 3,200 square miles. One week after it’s July 1945 opening the first atomic bomb test was conducted at this location. You’ve probably heard of the Trinity Test Site from history. Well, that’s here. Since then, many additional atomic tests and over 42,000 missile tests have been conducted at this site. Over the years the US Government has developed other testing sites in nearby states. They would launch the missiles from the neighboring state and it would fly to New Mexico and impact at White Sands.
White Sands Missile Range was the first place to launch a NASA rocket. They are proud to claim this location as the birth of America’s space program. During the shuttle program, White Sands Missile Range was a backup landing site but was only used once in 1982 (Columbia). NASA still uses the location to launch small rockets for various experiments.
Be aware, you won’t see the missile range itself (well, maybe the very edge of it). You can, however, visit a pretty cool museum at the nearby military base. The Trinity Site is well over 100 miles to the north with an entire mountain range between the museum and the site. Distance between your family’s minivan and a nuclear missile test site is a good thing, right?
There’s a small museum that discusses the experiments that went on here (and some that continue). They talk about how the atomic age began and even about the prehistoric people that once lived here.
Did you know that ancient camels once lived in this part of North America? Apparently, they were here long before they migrated through Eurasia and to the Middle East.
Missile park, I’ve also heard them called missile gardens. Ha, that phrase just cracks me up!
The outside missile park has over 60 rockets, missile launchers, planes, and equipment for you to see and climb on. These represent the various missiles tested at this site over the years.
The museum is free to visit, and they’re open 8-4 weekdays 10-3 Saturdays. Closed some holidays. The outside missile garden that’s open dusk till dawn every day of the week.
Here’s a link to their website http://www.wsmr-history.org/
Be aware, there are strange requirements when visiting this site.
- You have to go through a military checkpoint. They’ll require you to park your vehicle (there’s plenty of places to park even for larger vehicles and campers) and go inside. Anyone over 18 will be required to show their government-issued photo ID. We also had to show them a copy of our vehicle’s registration & proof of insurance. A little unorthodox but it is an active military base.
- You can take pictures anywhere inside the museum. You can take photos outside but you can’t take photos looking to the West. This is the direction of the military base and apparently, there are rules against that.
Honestly, we didn’t find these rules to be too limiting. We were able to enjoy the museum and take the photos we wanted without much of a problem.
More To Do in the Area
When you’re in the area you’ll want to visit White Sands National Monument. Depending on the direction you’re going you might also want to visit the great town of Las Cruces or Alamogordo. Alamogordo has a nice space history museum that’s worth a visit. That where they’ve done a lot of the NASA overland speed tests. We’ve been before although there’s no Wesley Adventure article about it. Here are a few pictures of the museum.
Alamogordo Space History Museum Photos