Understanding White Sands Missile Range

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Imperial Forces of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, forcing America into World War IIThis caused the United States Government to respond. The U.S. military established a permanent presence in the Tularosa Basin during World War II, creating White Sands Proving Grounds, which is now called White Sands Missile Range, as well as the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, known today as Holloman Air Force Base.

White Sands Missile Range was also one of the key locations of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb during World War II. The testing of the first atomic bomb took place in 1945 at the Trinity site on WSMR, 65 miles north of White Sands National Monument.

After World War II, White Sands Missile Range became home of some of the German scientists, including Werner Von Braun, who were instrumental in the conception and development of the V-2 rocket. Managed by the U.S. Army, WSMR has supported and continues to support essential defense and space exploration programs for all branches of the military services and NASA, as well as other forms of scientific research.

White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is located in the Tularosa Basin of south-central New Mexico. The headquarters area is 27 miles east of Las Cruces, New Mexico and 45 miles north of El Paso, Texas. White Sands Missile Range homepage.

White Sands Missile Range regularly conducts missile tests. For visitor safety, the only road into the dunefield, Dunes Drive, may be closed for periods of up to three hours during missile tests. Monument staff is usually notified two weeks in advance of scheduled tests; however, notifications from White Sands Missile Range may be received up to 24 hours in advance of a test. Monument staff work to inform the public as far in advance as possible for upcoming tests and monument closures.

White Sands Missile Range is home to the Bataan Memorial Death March. This annual event is one of the Army’s largest memorial marches and is renowned as one of the toughest marathons in the United States.

This trek through WSMR’s high desert terrain attracts thousands from across the nation and around the world each spring. Participants may choose from a 26.2-mile course or a 14.2-mile course.

The memorial march honors a special group of World War II heroes who defended the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, they surrendered to Japanese forces and marched for days through the jungles. Thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardships of prisoner-of-war camps. Others were wounded or killed when unmarked enemy ships transporting prisoners to Japan were sunk by U.S. air and naval forces.

Please note that all activity, including: horseback riding, backcountry camping, hiking, sledding, and driving on Dunes Drive is prohibited during all missile tests that require the closure of Dunes Drive for visitor safety. Please contact the monument to verify whether a test has been scheduled for the date of your visit.

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