White Sands National Monument
In New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, on the Northernmost tip of the Chihuahuan desert, lies the White Sands National Monument. Consisting of miles of pure white sand dunes made of gypsum, the monument is one of the rarest geological phenomenon in North America. Gypsum is derived through a hydration, dehydration process, where is must get wet and then dehydrated to become separated from other minerals. Naturally, this process makes the occurrence of gypsum dunes a rarity. The bright white dunes are truly one of the most beautiful and ethereal locales in the United States. Naturally, the monument has played host to hundreds of film crews and photo-shoots.
Surprisingly, due to the lack of water and vegetation, the dunes have a long history of civilization. 10,000 years ago Paleo Indians lived in the basin when the area was a grassland, long before the dunes were formed. 6,000 years ago, classified as the Archaic period, the flora vanished from the area due to changing climates on earth’s surface. This is when the dunes appeared. From this time until 1350, a people group called the Jornada Mogollon, lived in and around the dunes. Their remnants are still being found in the monument. They made adobe pottery, lived in permanent homes, and farmed. The reason for their leaving the valley in 1350 is still a mystery. Soon after they left the predecessors of the Apache Indian tribe moved in to the area, and lived there peaceably until the Spanish Colonization n the 1850’s. The Salt Trail, growing tourism industry, ranching, and mining soon overtook the area. Now, part of the basin is used for space research! The White Sands missile range is the world’s biggest space research field.
The White Dunes’ lack of moisture and mineralized ground water create a very harsh environment for the plants and animals living there. Most of the animals living in the basin are nocturnal, and so are rarely seen. Many of the animals are typical to other deserts, such as the roadrunner, foxes, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. However, there are a group of species that have evolved to match their environment by gradually turning bright white! These species are endemic to this environment because of their brilliant (lack of) coloring. The Apache Pocket Mouse (perognathus flavenscens apachii), Bleaches Earless Lizard (holbrookie maclata ruthveni), Sand-Treader Camel Cricket (daihiniodes larvale), and sand wolf spider (arctosa littoralis) have all become gradually become whiter to match their blanched environment. Interestingly, the Tularosa Basin provided home for many extinct mammals, including the American lion, dire wolves, ancient camels, saber tooth tigers, and the giant ground sloth, which could be ten feet tall when standing! There are many desert succulents and wildflowers that bloom during the wetter season, creating a show of bright colors on the white sands.
1. When is the best time to visit the monument?
The gates typically open at 7:00 am and close around dinner time, although the exact time that it closes changed depending on the season. Because of its location in a desert, the summers can get very hot. Whenever you visit, wear heat responsible clothing, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
2. How much does it cost to go to the monument:
It costs $5 to enter the monument per adult. Children 15 years and under have free access to the monument.
3. What is there to do at the Monument?
Sledding! That’s right, one of the most popular pastimes at the park is sledding down the white slopes. It’s just like snow sledding, except it is on some very hot sand. The dunes are open to hiking and exploring. It is possible to spend a great day walking over the dunes, sledding down, and then grabbing some food at the gift shop.
4. Where do I stay?
The closest town is Alamogordo, NM, which is 13 miles away from the monument gates. There you will find hotels, motels, restaurants, and shops.
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