White Sands National Monument

November 28, 2017

White Sands_IMG_2575B

Photographer: Rick Stankiewicz 
Summary Authors: Rick Stankiewicz 

White Sands National Monument is home to the world’s largest gypsum dune field. Located between the Sacramento and San Andres Mountain Ranges of south-central New Mexico, this unique windblown gypsum deposit is surrounded by desert, grasses and shrublands. It's the northern portion of the Chihuahuan Desert complex, which extends southward to central Mexico. White Sands covers an area of 275 sq mi (710 sq km) and is surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, so access is limited to the park entrance off of U.S. 70, southwest of Alamogordo.

Millions of years ago, this region was the floor of the Permian Sea and when it retreated it left behind layers of gypsum and as the surrounding mountains rose, so did the gypsum. Selenite crystals are the source of this white sand. Gypsum in the surrounding mountains is dissolved by rain and groundwater which finds its way into the Alkali Flats of the Tularosa Basin, between the two mountain ranges. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind crystals that are broken down by wind, rain and snow to become the gypsum sand.

Once amongst the dunes, it can be an otherworldly experience. There are no set trails to restrict one's movement. Thus, you can walk over or slide down any dune you like. The sands shift with time (and wind), so a new landscape is always presenting itself to the visitors of this strange and unique environment. If not for the surrounding mountains and periodic marker stakes at intervals in the dunes, it would be easy to get lost, and even if you don't venture far or plan to stay for more than an hour or so, dehydration and exposure are two things to guard against. So be prepared if you visit these intriguing dunes. Picture taken January 18, 2017.

Photo Details: Camera Model: Canon EOS 60D; Lens: EF-S18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS; Focal Length: 170mm; Aperture: ƒ/19.0; Exposure Time: 0.0029 s (1/350); ISO equiv: 200.