White Sands National Monument near Alamagordo, New Mexico, is as irresistible as a white sand beach but with an added mystery since it is not the type of sand you find at the beach but the world’s largest gypsum dune field. It moves from west to east at about 30 feet per year.
The dunes call begging me to take off my shoes and feel the sand between my toes. I wander off searching for dunes with no footprints on them while leaving my own behind.
The strange transition from the dry, dirt and cactus Chihuahuan desert to the soft sand dunes leaves me puzzled. Where did it come from? Why is it here?
The dunes originate from a nearby lake with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates the minerals are left behind forming a gypsum deposit that the wind forms into dunes.
It is a strange place. Here’s some weird stuff:
- Sometimes rain causes bits of gypsum to dissolve and it creates a sort of cement or hardened portion of sand.
- Soaptree yuccas grow extremely tall in the dunes to keep their heads out of the sand and then, when the dune erodes and can no longer support them, the plants collapse on their spindly stems.
- Gypsum doesn’t convert the sun’s energy very well so the dunes remain cool to walk on even on a hot day.
- Sledding down the hill is a lot fun (I didn’t try it, I’m just basing that on observing the kids!).
- There’s a dude with a camel named Matilda.
- The dunes are inside a missile range.
- Sonic booms are super loud.
- The first atomic bomb was detonated here in 1945.
It’s a fascinating place but be careful when you’re out there playing in the sand. All the dunes look alike and it’s pretty easy to get lost.