I really unique natural wonder that my wife and I recently spent a great day at near my home in El Paso, Texas is White Sands National Monument:
White Sands is located just outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico and is really one of the most unique site you can find in America due its incredibly white gypsum sands that extend across the Tularosa Basin. The visitor center is actually very well done and provides plenty of information and even a 20 minute film about the park and the Tularosa Basin. Here is how the basin was formed millions of years ago:
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.
The park is located within the Tularosa Basin which in this area of the basin water does not drain into any natural water source. For example rain that falls on the Franklin Mountains at the far southern end of the basin it drains into the Rio Grande River. However, when rain falls on the Sacramento or San Andres mountains the water flows into the basin but has no river to drain it thus the water sits in pools, which causes a chemical reaction with the soil that creates gypsum.
The 12,005 foot Sierra Blanca Peak
San Andres Mountains
This gypsum then blows across the desert forming what is now the world’s largest rolling dune field. As long as water keeps draining into the basin from the nearby mountains, this dune field is only going to continue to expand as more gypsum is made. The largest pool of water in the basin is Lake Lucero that is known at times to completely fill with water to only drain and form massive quantities of gypsum.
From the visitor center there is a road that drives into the national monument that takes in some of the best sites of the park. This road has to be one of the most unusual in the nation due to it being surrounded by such incredibly white sand:
At times the National Park Service actually has to plow the road to keep it clear of the ever shifting sand dunes. As the road enters deep into the park it is dyed completely white due to the surrounding sand dunes:
It is on top of these sand dunes that local families like to climb to the top of, set up some umbrellas, and then do a little BBQing:
A popular activity at White Sands for families is sledding down the dunes:
The visitor center actually sells and rents out these sleds for visitors to use. My wife and I just planned to park my Ford somewhere and then walk around the dunes a bit before finding a place to sit down and each a cold lunch that we brought with us:
As my wife and I walked around the dunes we were both glad we were wearing good sunglasses because if you take your glasses off you literally cannot see because of the glare of the sun off of the sand. That is how white it is. Here is a nice video I found on YouTube of White Sands:
Here is view of the 12,0005 foot (3,659 meters) Sierra Blanca Peak as seen from the park:
In the winter time this mountain is actually snow capped and has a really nice ski resort. As I took this picture I was thinking to myself that a winter time picture of this snow capped mountain with the surrounding white sands would make for a great photo. Speaking of a great photo, here is one of my lovely wife:
As we walked around the dunes it is really amazing how much plant life has been able to find a way to adapt and survive in these shifting sand dunes such as these yucca plants:
Some how even these colorful flowers have found a way to survive in the vastness of these dunes:
But without a doubt these yuccas are the plants that adapted the best to this alien environment:
These yuccas may look small but their root systems under the ground are actually vast in order to absorb enough water to survive. This picture of a sand dune that has since blown away but still has roots holding a chunk of sand together gives visitors an idea of just how extensive these root networks are:
There is also a variety of wildlife that has adapted to life in the park by changing their skin and fur color to white. In this picture you can see my wife posing with one of the many lizards that live in this park that has changed its skin color to white:
The best thing about the park is that just about anyone can see the various wonders of White Sands due to this great walkway they made for people with mobility problems:
It was really good to see the elderly and handicapped be able to get deep into the park and not just be limited to the road where you cannot truly appreciate the scale of this wonderful park.
The National Park Service has a really great website about the park that is really well done and provides plenty of visitor information and geology of this unique American natural wonder.