ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Indescribable Beauty of New Mexico's White Sands National Monument

Updated on June 1, 2021
Chuck profile image

Chuck enjoys traveling, and over the years, has had the opportunity to visit many fascinating places in the U.S. and the world.

My wife sitting on a dead tree branch atop a white sand dune.
My wife sitting on a dead tree branch atop a white sand dune. | Source

An Island of White in the New Mexico Desert

Just west of Alamogordo, New Mexico on the north side of US Highway 70 lies White Sands National Monument. The term national monument is a U.S. Department of the Interior term that refers to an area of historic, natural or other significant interest that warrants preservation but is not considered large enough to be operated as a National Park. White Sands is too small to fit the government's definition of a national park but its geologic uniqueness and spectacular beauty qualifies it to be preserved as a National Monument.

While small, the area covered by the white sand is only about 275 square miles in size, most of which is within the boundaries of the national monument, a visit to this site is a spectacular experience. White Sands is not totally unique as there are a few other areas in the world that have the same geology and same white sand, but cover areas much smaller than the White Sands area of New Mexico.

The White Sands National Monument sits like an island near the edge of the U.S. Army's huge White Sands Missile Range. The National Monument borders the U.S. Air Force's Holloman Air Force Base on one side and the WSMR on the other sides. However, the white sand from which the National Monument takes its name is found almost entirely within the boundary of the National Monument while the Army's White Sands Missile Range consists of regular desert with land an vegetation similar to other desert areas of the American Southwest. The WSMR simply takes its name from the White Sands National Monument which it surrounds.

A desert yucca plant provides a bit of color sitting atop a sand dune in White Sands National Monument
A desert yucca plant provides a bit of color sitting atop a sand dune in White Sands National Monument | Source

Like a Vast Snow-Covered Field

The white sand that characterizes the monument consists of fine particles of hydrous calcium sulfate more commonly known as gypsum. While calcium sulfate or gypsum is a fairly common mineral it is not common in sand form. The white sand at White Sands National Monument is the result of the unique geology of the Tularosa Basin in which it is located.

Trapped within the basin is Lake Lucero which lies within the monument boundary but can only be accessed by tourists via scheduled, ranger guided tours. Lake Lucero is all that remains of a much larger ancient lake which has receded due to evaporation leaving vast beds of calcium sulfate.

Normally the calcium sulfate would be dissolved and washed away by rains, but here in the desert the lack of rain and drainage prevents this from happening.

The wind, however, does cause the slow breakdown of the calcium sulfate or gypsum into tiny sand crystals which are then blown about the area by the wind to cover the approximately 275 square mile area with a thick blanket of pure white sand.

With little rain to dissolve and carry away the sand, it basically covers the area like a thick blanket of snow.

The result is what appears to be a vast, snow covered terrain sitting in the middle of the hot New Mexico desert. Just like standing in a snow covered field on a bright sunny day, sunglasses are a great help in viewing the area.

Despite the hot sun and scanty summer or light spring and autumn clothing, most people can't resist playing in the sand as if it were snow. While not cold like snow, the sand is also not hot.

The white color not only reflecting the heat away but trace amounts of moisture just below the top layer of sand also act to keep the sand cool to the touch. Unlike a sandy summer beach, walking barefoot in the sand of White Sands is a cooling rather than burning experience for one's feet.

Being a finer grain than most common beach sand, the sand is also softer and easier on the feet to walk upon. But, like all sand, the sand at White Sands remains finely ground rock and, unlike snow which it appears to be, it is not soft when you fall or throw yourself upon it.

While it lacks the softness and cold temperature of snow, the white sand dunes practically beg people to frolic upon them as if they were snow covered hills.

Visitors, in turn respond to the invitation by frolicking on the dunes as if they were hills covered with snow. People roll down the dunes and slide down on crushed cardboard boxes and other play things with flat smooth surfaces just as they do on snow covered hills during the winter in cooler climates.

The vast stark beauty of the area makes this an ideal place for photographers and sightseers. Watching the sun set over this incredibly beautiful area leaves one speechless as they simply ponder with wonder at the natural beauty of God's creation.

Sledding on a dune in White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Sledding on a dune in White Sands National Monument, New Mexico | Source

White Sands at Sunset

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico | Source
My enjoying sunset at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
My enjoying sunset at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico | Source
Sun setting in distance at  White Sands National Monument, NM
Sun setting in distance at White Sands National Monument, NM | Source
Sunset at White Sands National Monument, NM
Sunset at White Sands National Monument, NM | Source
Sunset in White Sands National Monument, NM
Sunset in White Sands National Monument, NM | Source
The sand takes on a pink glow at sunset in White Sands National Monument, NM
The sand takes on a pink glow at sunset in White Sands National Monument, NM | Source
Last rays of sun in White Sands National Monument, NM
Last rays of sun in White Sands National Monument, NM | Source
Day ends at White Sands National Monument, NM
Day ends at White Sands National Monument, NM | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Chuck Nugent

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://corp.maven.io/privacy-policy

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)