The White Sands National Monument is partially in Otero County and partially in Dona Ana County in the State of New Mexico. It is approximately 15 miles southwest of a town called Alamorgordo in the Tularosa Basin valley area.
What is White Sands?
The White Sands National Monument is a Historic District and consists of white sand dunes that are composed of gypsum crystals. Dunes Drive leads you through the sand dunes on its 8 miles of scenic road. The dunes in White Sands are as high as approximately 25′ and can be used for “sledding”. As you first enter White Sands you see very lovely, pure-white dunes scattered with saltbush and some varieties of grass. As you continue your drive, the view changes. Suddenly the vegetation stops, and you are surrounded by large, bright dunes of sparkling white sand. White Sands is a recreational spot to have “fun in the sun” with the family as you walk the trails or sled ride down the dunes. White Sands is a great location for a photo shoot as you soak in the unique beauty of the area. White Sands is an educational spot where you and your family can learn about the Missile testing, the history of the area and the difference in this sand and other sands.
Why is White Sands Different?
White Sands is different for several reasons. The most obvious one is that there are approximately 135 square miles of sand, but no ocean or any other body of water that we are used to seeing around sand. Secondly, White Sands is different because it is gypsum crystals and gypsum is water soluble. Therefore, gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand. Typically, when it rains the gypsum would melt and be carried to a nearby body of water. Since there is no water near White Sands, the rain forms shallow pools that dry out and leave the gypsum on the surface. The gypsum crystals are then broken down by the weather and erosion and they become sand-size grains that the wind blows into sand dunes. A third thing about White Sands that is different is the fact that only the top few inches of gypsum dunes are actually loose sand. When the rain falls and dissolves the gypsum, it makes a crude form of plaster of Paris making the white sand dunes easier to walk on than most sand. Also, the gypsum does not generate heat like quartz-based sand crystals normally do, so you can comfortably walk in your bare feet in this sand in the hottest of weather. Lastly, White Sands is the site of Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. The White Sand Missile Range is on this site and several times a week the monument is closed while testing is done. When you plan your trip to White Sands, and you really should, check to be sure they are not testing during the time you plan to visit.