Wednesday, October 12, 2016

White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Located near the Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands looks like a beach in the middle of the Tularosa Basin surrounded by mountains, only there is no water. The sand is made from gypsum, which flows down from the mountains and is deposited in a lake on the western side of the basin.  As the water evaporates, the wind blows the gypsum across the land, eventually breaking it down into grains. 


The sand is cool to walk on and we went up and down some dunes barefoot. It was great. The dogs enjoyed it as well.  It was nice that dogs are allowed in the dunes anywhere we could go. Families also come because the Park allows you to have sleds and saucers and slide down the dunes, like it was snow.  Families were out today having a blast, especially the children who were having a great time.

The dunes is home to many plants and animals, but we only saw the plants. Animals of the Dunes are birds and lizards. When the lake has water in it, shrimp that have been living in the dry sand until the water comes, then the water comes alive. For thousands of years in shallow lakes like Lake Lucero, wind and sun have separated the water from the gypsum and formed selenite crystals. Wind and water break down the crystals making them smaller and smaller until they are sand. Steady, strong winds keep gypsum sand moving, piling it up and pushing dunes into various shapes and sizes.

When the Permian Sea retreated millions of years ago, it left behind deep layers of gypsum. Mountains rose and carried the gypsum high. Later, water from melting glaciers dissolved the mineral and returned it to the basin. Today, rain and snow continue the process. 






Beneath the Dunes is the glue that holds it together -- water, inches below the surface. Gypsum dunes remain moist during the longest droughts. The moisture prevents the dunes from blowing away. Water becomes older and saltier toward the center of the dune-field. Scientists are working to understand this change and other phenomena of this shimmering land.

San Andres Mountains in the distance

As the dunes move, they leave behind areas that soon fill with plants. The shallow water table can rise to the surface after heavy rains, turning the interdune areas into temporary ponds.



Residents of Alamogordo promoted the idea of White Sands becoming a National Monument and in 1933, President Herbert Hoover proclaimed White Sands a National Monument. During World War II, the US military tested weapons in the dunefield beyond the park. In 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated at Trinity Site, 100 miles north of Alamogordo.  

Footprints in the Sand

~~ I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. ~~ John Muir



People arrived in the Tularosa Basin after the last ice age ended 11,000 years ago. The Jornada Mogollon were the first to farm the area, and lived here until drought forced them out in the 1300s. American Indians returned in the 1600s and European Americans came in the late 1800s. Soon the railroad came and so did the settlers. The Jornada Mogollon made distinctive rock art and earlier people hunted mammoths.



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