White Sands National Monument-White Gypsum Sands and Matilda the Camel
Matilda the Camel at White Sands National Monument
Drive into a Different World at White Sands National Monument
The gypsum sand, which is composed of selenite crystals that have broken into fine sand grains, is blown by prevailing winds and forms the ever-changing white sand dunes of the White Sands National Monument. Although there is little vegetation visible, there are a few hardy species of plants which take root and can grow rapidly enough to avoid being buried by the dunes.
Visiting the White Sands National Monument is like driving into another world as the paved road leads gently into the dune area. The road is soon covered in white gypsum, with evidence that it has been plowed to clear the road of drifting sands. Here and there, low, isolated plants sprout from the sand.
White Gypsum Sands
White Sands National Monument, located near Alamagordo, New Mexico, is surrounded by White Sands Missile Range. Nearby is the Holloman Airforce Base and one of the space shuttle landing sites. Despite the military bases and activity nearby, the monument with its miles of sparkling pure white gypsum dunes is a place of quiet solitude.
The fine white gypsum powder dunes cover nearly 275 square miles, half of which are within the National Monument. The gypsum has eroded from the San Andres mountains and washed down or blown into the Tularosa basin 60 miles south.
RVing at White Sands National Monument
Pictures of White Sands National Monument
Driving the RV Through the Park
Although there is no camping within the monument, the roads are accessible to motorhomes, and we drove our RV along the 8 mile scenic drive to one of the large parking areas where we stopped to walk on the dunes and have lunch. There are several stopping points along the road where there are interpretive signs telling about the history, terrain and wildlife in the park. The sand is surprisingly cool, even on a warm day, and is easier to walk on than most sand. We found out later that most sand is quartz based and absorbs heat, but gypsum crystals do not convert the sun’s energy to heat and can be safely walked on even in the hot summer months.
White Sands Missile Range, surrounding the National Monument, is an active missile testing ground. Once or twice a week both the park and the main road (U.S. Route 70) are closed while tests are being conducted.
There must not have been any testing going on the day we decided to drive into the park as we were able to enter and stay as long as we wished. We happened to be there on a Sunday, and were surprised to see families coming in with plastic toboggans that they used to slide down the dunes. It looked like so much fun that we wished we could join them!
Visiting White Sands National Monument
- Fee - $3 per person, but entrance is free with an America the Beautiful pass.
- There is a gift shop and visitor center at the entrance to the park. There is also a place to buy refreshments.
- There are several very short trails with interpretive signs. For those wishing to take longer hikes into the dunes, you are required to register at the trailhead and return by sunset.
- Accommodations and camping are available in Alamagordo, about 16 miles away.
- Things to see in Alamagordo include the International Space Hall of Fame and the Space Theater.
Bleached Earless Lizard
Plants and Animals Adapt to Life on White Sands
While the white sand dunes look barren at first glance, there are nearly a hundred species of animals, reptiles and amphibians live in the White Sands National Monument. Many of these animals are nocturnal, so it's unlikely you will see them during a daytime visit. Over the thousands of years the white sands have been in existence, other animals have adapted their coloring to the environment.
White Sands National Monument is at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Because this is a desert area, plants must be drought hardy to survive. In addition, they must be able to survive being burried in the ever-shifting dunes and fluctuations in temperatures which range from below freezing in winter to over 100° in the summer.
Meeting Matilda the Camel
We had lunch in our RV where we had a good view of the dunes and of people coming and going from the horse trailer parking area. When a large trailer turned in and began unloading its cargo, I was fascinated to see a camel being led onto the sand. Along with some others who had noticed the unusual creature, I walked over to get a better look and was introduced to Matilda the camel by her gregarious and friendly owner, George Stone.
It turned out that George and his wife Sherel are family therapists and the camel is part of their pet therapy when working with abused children. George acquired Matilda when she was one day old and about the size of a large dog. They have a very close bond, and Matilda was even a part of George and Sherel’s wedding as the bride, in her wedding finery, rode the camel to the church.
They were at White Sands that day to bring Matilda out to
play. George said that the camel loves
being out in the sand, so they bring her out on weekends for some R & R. As a small crowd gathered on the dunes around
George and Matilda, George told stories about the camel and encouraged people to pet her and pose for
pictures. It was delightful to get close
to the gentle, long-legged Matilda, but I admit I was a little appehensive when she
nibbled at my fingers, obviously looking for a treat. She was very, very gentle, but did leave me with handful of camel drool.
Although the white sands are spectacular and unique in
themselves, meeting George and Matilda made our visit to White Sands even
more memorable. If you visit White Sands National Monument, do enjoy the Visitor Center, the Interdune Walk and the beautiful scenery. And if you are lucky enough to be there some Sunday afternoon when George brings Matilda the Camel out to play in the dunes, do go over to say hello!
White Sands National Monument
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