White Sands National Monument

Location: 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo, New Mexico
Date: February 22, 2011

In southern New Mexico at the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert between the cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces is a vast, largely empty area that is the White Sand Missile Range.  Within the missile range is a field of pure white sand dunes - White Sands National Monument.


The dunes here are made of gypsum, a mineral that is soluble in water.  They were formed when water dissolved gypsum in the surrounding mountains, flowed to the valley, and evaporated, leaving the gypsum behind.

An eight mile long park road heads into the dune fields and has three short trails along it.  One of the trails is a flat, accessible boardwalk while the other two traverse the parabolic dunes, one of four dune types in the park. At the end of the road is a picnic area among the transverse dunes.  The parabolic dunes can have quite a bit of vegetation on them, but there is rarely any on the transverse dunes because plants cannot keep up with the moving dunes.  There is a longer trail among the transverse dunes, but you can easily walk across the dunes anywhere here.

Transverse-Barchan Dunes

The park is only open during daylight hours, and getting to the park from the west can sometimes be difficult because of road closures that occur during tests on the missile range.  Additionally, about half of the monument is a restricted access area that is cooperatively used by the missile range and can only be accessed with a permit.  The Organ Mountains to the southwest have a campground and more recreation opportunities.

Roadrunner tracks

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