February 16th, 2008 – by: alyssa_ob
Entrance to park
About 20 miles outside of Alamogordo is White Sands National Monument. Basically this is a huge park full of sand dunes - WHITE sand dunes. You can walk on some trails or just wander anywhere you want on the dunes. Its easy to get lost because the dunes seem to go on forever and they all look the same. Its hard remembering which dune is hiding your car. You can even go sledding on the dunes. I watched some people doing it and it looked fun. But I have snow back home to go sledding in.
I was so excited to just play in the sand. I wanted to climb up and down the dunes and run barefoot. Well, as I mentioned earlier, it rained all night and into this morning, hence the late start out here.
White sand between my toes!
I guess in a way that was a good thing because it was really windy and the sand was wet and the grains stuck together so they didn't blow around. But I wanted to lay in the sand and get a sun tan and go barefoot. I tried to lay out, but it was only 45-50 degrees, so it was a little chilly, especially with the wind. But I did take off my shoes and socks and went barefoot through the dunes. It was so fun, I felt like a little kid again. I just wanted to run and play and dig and roll and slide and... But I'm an adult, I need to be mature and boring. And I didn't have anyone else to play with.
Oh well, I'm going to play anyway! I ran up and down some dunes (barefoot) and tried my hand at sliding.
Cottonwoods (and the moon)
That didn't work too well without a sled. It was more like skootching down, plus I got sand in my pants. But then I ran around some more and eventually decided that I should go on some of the trails in the rest of the park. I was just playing out in the alkali flats area.
I breezed through the Living Dunes trail - it is a guided nature trail, but there weren't any booklets in English, so I just went for the mile walk . The Yuccas have adapted to the sand dunes by growing tall and fast enough that they always remain above the sand. When the dune passes, they are left as a tall stalk and usually die if they are too tall. I got some pictures of some that are a few feet off the ground. There is another plant that grabs on to the sand with its roots, so when the dune passes, you see a big pedestal with the plant growing on top, many feet off the ground! Some of the dunes even have cottonwood trees growing in them!
So how did all this white sand get here? And what is it? Quick geology lesson - this area used to be covered by shallow warm seas that deposited rocks, including a gypsum layer.
The rocks domed up during the mountain building of the Rockies. About 10 million years ago the dome collapsed, forming the basin. The Sacramento Mtns to the east and San Andreas Mtns to the west are the original edges of the dome. No rivers drain this basin, so all the sediment (gypsum in particular) stays in this basin. There's more to it than that, but the point is, any gypsum that erodes from the surrounding mountains stays in the basin and eventually forms the gypsum sand dunes. Gypsum dissolves in water, but the lack of water in the desert, as well as lack of river drainage, allows the white gypsum sand to form and stay. And the wind keeps the dunes moving - some move up to 35 feet per year!
There is a sunset walk where you are supposed to get pretty photos, but I had a 4 hour drive ahead of me, so I decided not to stay for it.
It was also clouding up again, so I wasn't sure you'd actually be able to see anything color-wise. I left the park at 4 - as a huge stream of cars was entering. Maybe this sunset thing would have been a good idea after all. Besides, my $3 ticket was good for 6 days! But I have a lot of driving to do, and I figure since I'll be going through the San Andreas mountains, I might want to go during daylight, considering how gorgeous the Sacramento Mountains were.
As it turns out, they were not very spectacular. Not as high, not as steep, no pretty outcrops or road cuts, and no snow. Oh well, I didn't want to regret that one, too. I guess now I just regret not doing the sunset photos. Maybe next time.
White Sands National Monument Sights & Attractions review
A day at the beach - without the water
White Sands National Monument is located in south-central New Mexico near Alamogordo. The park covers about 115 square miles of beautiful white sand … read entire review