White Sands National Monument in New Mexico ~ Bright and Dazzling Pics
White Sands National Monument after a brief rain shower
If you are driving to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico as my friend and I did approaching it from Cloudcroft and heading down the mountain, the vista of glistening white sands that lies below is startlingly beautiful. The sands are bright and dazzling!
This is the world's largest gypsum dune field and the monument has effectively protected about 275 square miles of them.
The location can be found off US Highway 70 about 14 miles west of Alamagordo, New Mexico......or 52 miles east of Las Cruses.
No public transportation takes one through this park, so people are in their own cars, vans or campers.
I had always heard of White Sands, but really did not expect to see the pristine beauty and snowy whiteness that unfolded before my friend's and my eyes.
White Sands National Monument in New Mexico
Roads through the park - White Sands National MonumentClick thumbnail to view full-size
White Sands National Monument
Roads through the park...
As you can see from these photos, large earth-movers work to keep the eight miles of roadways cleared for easy access when traveling through the park.
There are regularly plowed parking areas provided so that one can get out and walk or take pictures.
Four marked trails are maintained and there are some Park Ranger activities offered as well.
If one takes advantage of the hiking, one must be prepared to carry enough water, dress appropriately for the weather, wear protective sunscreens, sunglasses and hats.
This is high desert country!
Elevation is at 4,000 feet or around 1200 meters.
These sand dunes are continually moving and can move about 30 feet in a year generally from west to east.
Spring is a typically windy time.
One's footprints can disappear rapidly.
So if walking through the dunes, one can become disoriented rather quickly. Carrying a good compass is recommended.
People have died in this white sand desert!
So while beautiful to explore, reasonable precautions should be utilized.
The park is typically opened from 7 AM until sunset.
Interdune Boardwalk at White Sands National Monument
The Interdune Boardwalk
The Interdune Boardwalk was created so that people in wheel chairs could get out into the middle of the dunes and see the hardy plants that survive in this harsh environment a little closer.
Other exhibits along the paved roads interpret the history and geology of the dunes so that people better understand how this all came about and be able to better appreciate what they are viewing.
Skunkbush sumac at White Sands National Monument
Images viewed at White Sands Nat'l. Monument
With the constantly shifting sands it is amazing that any plants or animals can survive.
But amazingly, some plants have adapted as some of these photos portray.
The large photo above shows the shunkbush sumac.
These hardy shrubs bind the sand with their roots into a compact mass. When the sands once again shift, which they continually do, a hardened pedestal remains which the plant holds in place. Even if the plant eventually dies, often this formation remains.
The photo to the right shows an almost buried yucca plant that also has a way of adapting to the ever changing environment.
The way the yucca survives is by growing an ever longer stem so that its leaves remain above the surface of the sand. This one is almost buried as you can see but is still reaching for the sky and sun to keep it alive.
Most of the wildlife in a desert area such as this survive by remaining in burrows during the hot daylight hours.
Some of these nocturnal animals include species such as porcupines, rabbits, coyotes, rodents and foxes.
What one is likely to see during the day are some birds, beetles and lizards.
An African antelope called the Oryx was introduced by the State of New Mexico onto the White Sands Missile Range. These oryx have multiplied and spread into the park. They have actually become a threat to the native plants and animals!
Lightening Strikes 8 Times at White Sands, NM
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Geology of White Sands National Monument
The geology of this place is interesting as to what caused this massive buildup of white sand.
250 million years ago in this area a shallow sea covered the land. Compressed and eventually turned into stone when the Rocky Mountains were uplifted, this area was also raised.
About 10 million years ago a domed area collapsed and formed what is known as the Tularoso Basin.
Water began flowing into the Tularosa Basin and formed Lake Lucero at the lowest point and Lake Otero (a larger lake) was created during the last Ice Age.
There was no outlet to the sea, so as evaporation naturally took effect, the deposited gypsum became quite thick in areas.
During wet periods gypsum was slowly turned into a crystalline form called selenite.
Selenite crystals began to be broken down by alternate freezing and thawing temperatures and was ultimately crumbled into sand sized particles.
Selenite is clear, but once it was able to be blown about by the wind, the sand like particles began scratching the surface of each piece.
The light reflecting off of these small scratched pieces of selenite appears white........thus, the creation of what we now see as white sand was created over eons of time.
We enjoyed using one of their unique and shaded picnic spots in which to have some lunch one day. One definitely appreciates a bit of shade in this environment!
It was late April and few people were traveling through the monument on the particular day that we were there. It is probably quite different in the summertime when more family vacations are taking place.
One interesting side bit of information.
Since this National Monument is surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, closures of the roads going into the park are quite common when missile testing is being conducted. On average one can expect delays of one to two hours and this can happen several times a week.
The Missile Range consists of 4,000 square miles and the Department of Defense still actively tests experimental weapons. No public access is granted into these areas.
Experiencing the dazzling White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is definitely something one will long remember.
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© 2009 Peggy Woods
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