Monday, April 14, 2008

White Sands National Monument

Sunday was sightseeing day!
After a brief stop at a pistachio store (we bought garlic flavored shelled pistachios as well as regular pistachios in shells – oh, yes – and a bottle of New Mexico Cabernet), we moved south of Alamogordo to White Sands National Monument.

White Sands National Monument was set aside to protect a major part of the world’s largest gypsum dune field, set in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest and highest desert in North America. Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert here and created this immense dune field.
The Visitor Center was built during the Great Depression by units of the Work Projects Administration.

The dunes, brilliant and white, are ever-changing. They grow, crest, slump, but always advance.

The dunes may appear like a winter snowscape, but they are made up of pure white, very fine gypsum sand, blown by the relentless southwest winds.

On the outside edges of the dune field, the dunes are low and slow-moving. As a result, some desert plants have evolved to be able to sustain life in this harsh climate. As plant life flourishes, so does animal life.

Along a special boardwalk trail, we saw an overview of the plant life of the dune area.

We saw plants but no animals, since they are typically nocturnal.
There were animal prints, however, left from the previous night’s adventures.

The soap root yucca has developed a particularly unique way of surviving as the dunes move about. When blowing sand begins to bury the plants, the yucca can grow fast enough to keep it’s head above-ground. What appears to be a two-foot tall yucca atop a 30-foot dune may actually be a 32-foot tall yucca!
Other plants anchor parts of a dune with their roots and keep growing on a sand pedestal even after the sand moves on.

Further into the dunes, plant life still clings on, but precariously.

In the “heart of the dunes” even the crafty yucca can’t keep pace with the shifting sands. The dunes can grow as much as 10 feet a year in height, but the yucca is limited to about a foot a year.

Humans are prohibited from walking on the “interdune” area where microscopic life endures, but on the fast-moving dunes, it’s open season. We saw families in picnic areas with adults and children alike running, climbing, and sledding down the dunes with abandon, taking advantage of what nature has provided – and what nature will take care of overnight with the relentless wind.

I even took my chances climbing a dune barefoot.

Roswell, New Mexico, the center of UFO activity, will be the next stop on … Our Life on Wheels.


  1. I love the desert pictures. The sand is so beautiful!

    Oooohhh...Roswell! That should be a fun/interesting stop. How long will you guys be in that area?

  2. We'll be here three nights. That gives us a day for sightseeing and a day for taking care of the usual things about living. Today (Wednesday) is sightseeing day.

  3. Where's the ocean??!! Normally, because of where we live, the ocean is just over one of those dunes. Wonder what those footprint patterns look like from above? Perhaps the patterns are what lured the aliens to Roswell? Love the photos!


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