This summer I was finally able to see where my mother and stepfather moved to: New Mexico. I really enjoyed New Mexico, for all the reasons I remembered the when I drove through it years ago: the space, the isolation, the natural beauty. The Indian pueblo in Taos had its own species of beauty, and I loved some of the panoramas and of course, the chiles. I wanted to see White Sands National Monument for another kind of beauty.
The White Sands National Monument is adjacent to another very important and historical area: White Sands Missile Range, home of Trinity site and the testing of the first atom bomb, open to the public one Saturday every April and October. For some interesting reading, try the Rumors, Misinformation and Lies about the Trinity Site.
The White Sands National Monument is home to more than 275 square miles of white gypsum sand. The white sand looks suspiciously like snow and driving on it feels a little like it, too.
275 square miles of desert means that while you can see the mountains in the distance, you can easily get lost, disoriented and dehydrated if you wander too far out in the dunes. There are a few hiking paths that require guests to sign in and sign out so that their presence is accounted for when the park closes.
Note: We visited the park in July which is undoubtedly one of the hottest times of the year. Consult the website for recommended visiting times. We arrived around 9:30am and it was already scorching hot.
We saw tons of snake paths winding across the sand, and every once in a while, we met some real inhabitants of the dunes. Ladybugs and ants on the Soaptree Yucca.
A Bleached Earless lizard that was hanging out in the shade. When under the sun, they become washed-out and the color of sand!
The most interesting thing about sand dune ecosystems is that they are constantly moving. The dunes can move as much as 30 feet (west to east) per year! Only a few species of plants manage to grow quickly enough to stay ahead of the dune crawl and prosper.
One of these plants is the Soaptree Yucca. This plant is currently located on the cusp of the dune and will be fighting dune creep while it tries to stay above sand level.
Other plants have withstood the constant moving of sand grains on the dunes and have ended up with this hard, cylindrical “plant stand” of roots and gypsum anchoring it in place.
My mother has attended several events at the White Sands National Park, ranging from Moonlight Bicycle rides, Full Moon Nights and Stargazing Nights where astronomers come and let others view the stars through their telescopes.
Many families were there using saucers and sleds to go down the sand dunes. In July, this looked crazy to me, but I’m sure in the fall and winter it could be a great substitute for going to the snow!
We stopped after our hikes to have a little snack and some water. This picnic area was completely deserted and wonderfully peaceful. The shaded backs of the tables made sure we weren’t scorching though the sun was trying hard.
Have you been to the White Sands National Monument? Would you go sledding in the sand? What about a day-long hike?
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico