These Dunes Are Made For Walking

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.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Please click the images to view larger versions.

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.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

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.

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14 Responses to “These Dunes Are Made For Walking”

  1. Curt Fleenor says:

    The way the golden light plays across the dunes in your first image is beautiful. I have visit White Sands someday!
    Curt Fleenor recently posted..May 2012 Desktop Wallpaper CalendarMy Profile

    • Hi Curt, yes you do! I have wanted to go there for a long time and it really is a special place. I love the way the light reflects off the dunes at sunset. Thanks for your comments.

  2. The first picture is simply magical…love it!
    Siddhartha Joshi recently posted..Holi Hai in pardes @ Stanford!My Profile

  3. LensScaper says:

    That first image looks unreal. Such subtle light
    LensScaper recently posted..Splat!My Profile

    • Thank you Andy. That one actually had a huge lens flare in it – so big I almost didn’t see it at all. I had to crop it out. Luckily the image was still saveable because it was one of my favourites.

  4. Bill Bean says:

    Wonderful images Anne. As you saw, the pastels are magical when the light is right.
    Bill Bean recently posted..What a year!My Profile

    • Hi Bill, you are so right, the pastels there are amazing! I didn’t realize it would be quite so beautiful when there were no clouds, but the soft light was incredible. Thank you for the compliment :)

  5. Jeline says:

    Sand dunes are definitely one of the best sites you can see in a dessert place.. And the photos you have here looks perfectly awesome!

  6. Edith Levy says:

    Wow Anne. I love them both but the first image is outstanding. It’s meant to be blown up and displayed on a wall.
    Edith Levy recently posted..Yet (i) Again!My Profile

  7. Some fantastic desert colors in those photos

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