White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, USA
Back in the late 80’s, I visited White Sands National Monument for the first time. I was 9 and this was possibly the coolest place a nine-year-old could be taken.
In the late 60’s, my Dad was training at Fort Bliss in nearby El Paso, TX. He knew of this anomaly, White Sands National Monument, in southern New Mexico and years later he would take his family there.
White Sands is a 275-square-mile area of sand dunes in the heart of the Tularosa Basin near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The sand is white because it’s pure gypsum—the largest gypsum dune field in the world!
The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) that forms these unusual dunes originates in the western portion of the monument from an ephemeral lake or playa with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates, the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually are wind-transported to form these white sand dunes.
Many species of plants and animals have developed very specialized means of surviving in this area of extremes: cold winters, hot summers, with very little surface water and highly mineralized ground water. White Sands is a great place to see evolution in action.
Of particular note, the Apache pocket mouse, the Bleached Earless Lizard, the Cowles Prairie Lizard, and numerous insects, have evolved a white coloration that camouflages them in the dunes.
The National Monument was formed in 1933 in recognition of its uniqueness. Today, families drive the scenic road and spend the day picnicking under umbrellas while kids repeatedly sled down the steep dunes.
Text and Photos by Stephen Bugno
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