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Date of visit:
March 17, 2000

For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
 Location of White Sands National Monument ...
 

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 Very popular
 Seems uncrowded
 Modest entry fee
 Bring sunglasses
 Bring sunblock SPF30
 Bring camera
 Many hiking trails
 Evening tours
 Learn source of sand
 Walk alkali flats
 Is it snow or sand?
 Many picnic sites

 Kachina

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White Sands National Monument
At the White Sands
At the White Sands
At the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies a mountain-ringed valley, the Tularosa Basin. Rising from the heart of this basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert and have created the world's largest gypsum dune field. The brilliant white dunes are ever changing: growing, cresting, then slumping, but always advancing. Slowly but relentlessly the sand, driven by strong southwest winds, covers everything in its path. Within the extremely harsh environment of the dune field, even plants and animals adapted to desert conditions struggle to survive.
Only a few species of plants grow rapidly enough to survive burial by moving dunes, but several types of small animals have evolved a white coloration that camouflages them in the gypsum sand.

White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this gypsum dune field along with the plants and animals that have successfully adapted to this constantly changing environment.

How the dunes formed
How the dunes formed
How the Tularosa Basin was formed.
The Tularosa Basin: The gypsum that forms the white sands was deposited at the bottom of a shallow sea that covered this area 250 million years ago. Eventually turned into stone, these gypsum-bearing marine deposits were uplifted into a giant dome 70 million years ago when the Rocky Mountains were formed. Beginning 10 million years ago, the center of this dome began to collapse and create the Tularosa Basin.
The remaining sides of the original dome formation now form the San Andres and Sacramento mountain ranges that ring the basin.

A rare form of sand
A dapper visitor to the White Sands
A dapper visitor
The common mineral gypsum, a hydrous form of calcium sulfate (CaS04-2H20), is rarely found in the form of sand because it is soluble in water.

Rain and snow that fall in the surrounding mountains dissolve gypsum from the rocks and carry it into the Tularosa Basin.

Normally, rivers would carry dissolved gypsum to the sea. But no river drains the Tularosa Basin.

The water, along with the gypsum and other sediments it contains, is trapped within the basin.

Lake Lucero
Prevailing winds of White Sands
Prevailing winds of White Sands
With no outlet to the sea, water flowing into the Tularosa Basin either sinks into the ground or pools up in low spots. One of the lowest points in the basin is a large playa called Lake Lucero. Occasionally, this dry lakebed fills with water. As the water evaporates, the dissolved gypsum is deposited on the surface. Even more gypsum deposition occurred during the last Ice Age when a larger lake, Lake Otero, covered much of the basin.
Crystal beds: In wet periods, water evaporating slowly on the playa floor causes gypsum to be deposited in a crystalline form called selenite. Along Lake Lucero's shore and in the Alkali Flat, beds of selenite crystals-some three feet long-cover the ground. The forces of nature - freezing and thawing, wetting and drying-eventually break down the crystals into sand-size particles light enough to be moved by the wind.
Four types of dunes at White Sands
Dome dunes
Dome dunes
The first dunes to form downwind of Lake Lucero are low mounds of sand that move up to 30 feet a year.
Barchamn dunes
Barchan dunes
Crescent-shaped dunes form in areas with strong winds but a limited supply of sand.
Transverse dunes
Transverse dunes
In areas with ample sand, barchan dunes join together into long ridges of sand
Parabolic dunes
Parabolic dunes
On the dune field edges, plants anchor the arms of barchans and invert their shape..
Images on the dunes
 
Sand verbena
Sand verbena
    Claret cup cactus
Claret cup cactus
Cactus wren
Cactus wren
    Bleached earless lizard
Bleached earless lizard
 
Site Gallery - White Sands
 
Into the wild A skeleton The encroachment
 Isolation  The Sentinel  Stranded yucca
 Taking root  Shifting sands  Surveying the landscape
 
 
For More Information
White Sands National Monument
Geology of White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument: Things To Do (DesertUSA)
White Sands Investigation
Lake Lucero - Southern New Mexico Online Magazine

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