As we looked west to the San Andres Mountain range rising from the desert floor, wave after wave of blinding white seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see, rolling out to the horizon. We had arrived at one of the world’s great natural wonders, White Sands National Monument.
Approximately 15 miles outside of the town of Alamogordo, New Mexico lies the world’s largest gypsum dune field, 275 square miles of white, glistening sand dunes, ever-shifting, ever-changing. Technically this should not be here, as gypsum is soluble in water, which makes it a very rare form of sand. Typically, rain and snow high in the mountains carry dissolved gypsum to rivers, which then flow to the sea. But the Tularosa Basin is not typical; no river drains this desert land so the gypsum that collects here becomes trapped, along with various other sediments.
During periods of rain or snow, water evaporates in the Tularosa Basin, breaking the gypsum down into a crystalline form known as selenite. Freezing, thawing, wetness and dryness break the crystals down even further into fine grains of sand. As the wind tosses them along the ground, theses tiny grains crash into one another, scratching their surface. These scratches change the way light reflects off the sand particles, causing them to appear white.
White Sands is a living laboratory, providing scientists an understanding into our past and a peek into our future, as they explore the gypsum dune field on Mars.
As we drove the 8-mile loop road through the monument, we had the feeling we would begin sliding at any moment, as it appeared we were driving on an icy, snow-packed road, with snowdrifts as far as the eye could see. I wondered what keeps dunes like this, so exposed to the wind and weather, from simply blowing away. New Mexico does have its fair share of high winds with so much open desert. I learned that the dunes can shift west to east up to 30 feet per year but it is ground water, found 12-36″ below the surface that keeps the dunes at 100% humidity year-round, helping to stabilize these massive sand piles.
Looking out over this vast expanse of white, you would think that nothing could live here, but many species of plants and animals do just that, having adapted and evolved over time to a white pallor that provides the perfect camouflage. The bleached earless lizard is one who is coping well to a life without color.
Many come here to slide down the massive dunes, purchasing wax-coated sleds in the visitor center’s gift shop. I decided to let the kid in me run barefoot up and down the dunes, while Terry, who had cut his toe earlier in the day, kept shoes one, shaking his head as he watched me run up one dune and down another.
As the sun began to dip below the San Andres Mountains, we sat watching in awe, as this wonder of nature was wrapped in a golden glow.
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64 thoughts on “Shifting, Ever-Changing ~ White Sands National Monument ~ Alamogordo, NM”
Isn’t this one of the most magnificent places you’ve ever been. It is just amazing to look out and see mile after mile after mile of white beautiful sand. I like the way you described it as a living laboratory. Perfect description. Thanks for bringing back so many great memories.
My pleasure Marsha. 🙂
I wish you a happy first to spring! I ask you to delete the previous comment
Happy spring to you as well and I will delete the previous comment Stefan.
Thanks for whetting our appetite Right now we are in Elephant Butte State Park and plan on heading to White Sands in 4-5 days – can’t wait. Where did you stay?
We could not get into the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park as we had hoped so had to head to Boot Hills RV Park, just outside Alamogordo. Nina of Wheeling It had told us about the state park and it sounded great so we were a little disappointed that there was no availability. You might want to give it a go. Boot Hills RV Park was nice enough, with level gravel parking but we would have much rather stayed at Oliver Lee. Enjoy and safe travels.
Thanks LuAnne – we will definitely give Oliver Lee a try. Also, looking at Valley of Fires Rec. BLM campground.
Hope you enjoy your time there.
Yeah, Oliver Lee would be my 1st choice esp. if you can get one of the top sites (#1-4). You can see my review of the spot here:
We didn’t go to Valley of Fire BLM, but I’ve head good things about it.
Thanks Nina. High season for Oliver Lee but we will try. If we end up in Valle of Fires BLM I will let you know.
What a GREAT set of shots you got!! This was one of our absolute FAV places in NM so I’m so very happy you got to see it. Wonderful summary!
Thanks Nina. I loved your post of Whitewater Draw. Wish we could have seen it but was very special seeing it through your eyes. 🙂
This is the place that made me understand why they call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. I love White Sands! Thank you for transporting me back there–and for rendering its beauty so well in words and photos!
My pleasure Lauren. Hope you are settling into your life in the big city. 🙂
Again LuAnn, wonderful photos to accomply your narative. Thanks for the tour!
My pleasure Ardythe! I’m really enjoying the photos you have been posting recently. 🙂
What a beautiful place! We must definitely put it on the list for our trip west next spring. You did a wonderful job explaining the why’s and how’s of the white, white sand. Glad you allowed yourself to let the kid come through. Thanks!
It was quite fascinating and great fun to run around like a kid. That shifting sand and those steep dunes made for a good leg workout! 🙂
Beautiful pictures and great description and explanation….makes me want to visit …….right now!!! Thank you!!
Thanks Janet! 🙂
It almost looks like snow. Loved the macro of the teeny footprints and that twisted tree (?) is amazing.
Thanks Gunta! 🙂
This is just such a great share… thank you.. wish I had more time..
Thanks Bulldog and take care.
Great that you had a wonderful time at White Sands. Beautiful pictures too. Did you do the nature trail that follows the life of a foxtail ?
Yes we did. We were considering the 5-mile trail but had already done a long dune hike while in Oregon on a windy day when we had to watch for posts across the dunes in order to find our way back. We didn’t think we had to repeat that again!
White Sands is one of my most favorite places in the States, Luann. I’m so happy you and Terry are getting to experience it. It truly is a place like know other in this country, almost one of those “out of this world places.” I have fond memories of photographing there under the full moon and during sunrise. Your blog post is fabulous and will hopefully get a few more people interested in discovering it. Thank you.
I really wanted to be there at sunrise but couldn’t quite talk the hubby into it. Sunset was pretty special. Do you have photos to share from your time there perhaps? 🙂
White Sands is so amazing. The closest thing we have in Colorado is the Sand Dunes, which is similar but lacks many of the accompanying details you captured so beautifully! Wonderful post, LuAnn.
Thanks Marylin. 🙂
Boy, you guys get around… So much adventure, so much fun…! 🙂
And…. you are both so ‘fit’ and ‘lean’ looking… must be all that adventuring…!
We try to focus on eating right and plenty of exercise, but not always successful. I think having lots of hiking available is the key for us. 🙂
That’s so good when ‘both’ want to stay lean and healthy… My man and I enjoy being that way too, LuAnn; and it is so good to have the energy to enjoy all that life has to offer us…! I’m a bit of a stickler for good eating habits… More power to us..! 🙂
I wish more felt like us, as we have quite the unhealthy society in our country it seems. I do believe that most illnesses can be avoided or treated with proper diet and staying active.
I so agree…
Here in Australia the obesity rates are soaring as more and more junk foods are eaten as daily fare. and exercise in schools becomes a thing of the past.
Thankfully though, there is a new attitude coming. More and more on our TV are ads suggesting better eating habits and the value of exercise….
Loved the post as it resonated with my existence in a desert country. Where the sand dunes rise 300 meters. Where the Wahiba Sands is so called since it is an endless sea of sands. Where the bedouins still roam free. Into this land when would you come my friend?
If you ever need someone to adopt…I am available. Ready to travel at a moments notice☺
Yay… I know the White Sand and have been there 🙂 Thank you for sharing the geology information!
My pleasure Amy.
a lovely place. The last photo was magnificent, LuAnn
beautiful white sand…almost like summer type of snow. thank you for sharing as i was clueless about this place.
My pleasure Sunshine. 🙂
What an amazing place….and your photos are so surreal and stunning! Love the twisted tree trunk.
It was like no other place we had ever visited.
I really really enjoyed this post LuAnn, both the information and your beautiful (as always photographs). it looks amazingly gorgeous there. You are quite the photographer dear friend! I love the snaps of Terry and you! Also. How fun. I can actually visualize you running up and down the dunes with Terry watching on! 🙂 xo
I need to let my ‘inner child’ out more often! It was really quite fun. 🙂
Yes, inner child, a very good thing to let out! 🙂
beautiful story ma dear friend ! have nice day!
And to you also Stefan. 🙂
What a place LuAnn, and your photos are stunning. When we were there, James (ever the geologist) was like you – fascinated by the gypsum sand. Amazing! I love your photo collage, and that twisted tree trunk is surreal. 🙂 ~Terri
Thanks Terri. White Sands was a very special place for us. 🙂
LuAnn what an astounding place! Wonderful photos.
Thanks Sue. 🙂
We just love this post and wanted to let you know that we featured a link to it today as part of our “Slice of Americana Series” that we’re running this July. You can check it out at the link below. Thanks for writing so beautifully! All the best, Terri & James
Thanks so much you two! We found White Sands to be fascinating, like walking through snow that wasn’t melting and the weather was warm, but the sand was cool. I appreciate the shout-out. 🙂
Although I follow your blog, I missed this post. So glad Gallivance shared the link with all of us. Your photography is outstanding, and what a great place to travel to. On my list now! http://ohtheplaceswesee.com
It is a very unique place, like standing in a snowstorm on a warm day. 🙂
What a beautiful place, and stunning photos. I’ve never even heard of this place. I’m glad Terri and James featured your blog!
Thank you for the comment and stopping by. I am now heading over to your blog. 🙂
Thanks really fascinating and somewhat eerie! Glad to have found your blog and I’ll revisit. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (plugged in and read to play).
It was a very interesting place to visit. Thanks for stopping by Thom. 🙂