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Explore and learn about the birth of white gypsum sand dunes in a wonderland of Mother Natures' geomorphological features. Remember to wear sunscreen and pack a picnic lunch with lots of water as you stroll through a world of white splendor as the soft grains of gypsum sand tumble up and over the ever changing dunal face of white mystery known as White Sands National Monument.
Short Description of Area:
White Sands National Monument is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, encompassing approximately 275 square miles of nearly 60 foot high glistening white hills of sand. It is located at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert in the Tularosa Basin near Alamogordo, New Mexico. It is at an elevation of 4000 feet and situated between the Sacramento Mountains to the East and the San Andres Mountains to the West.
Sand is a geological term of size not material. It is a particle of matter that is between .02 mm and 1.0 mm in size or light enough to be moved by wind, but not suspended in air. The movement of sand is called saltation and this is no more beautifully experienced than at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
Created in the Rio Grande Rift during the Tertiary period of 1.8 million to 65 million years ago, the Tularosa Basin is the home to the world’s largest white gypsum sand dune field. The Tularosa Basin was created during the geological age between the demise of the non-avian dinosaur and the last ice age. Its boundaries are: on the northeastern side the Sierra Blanca Mountains and the Carrizozo Volcanic Field; on the eastern and southeastern side by the Sacramento Uplift and Otero Platform; on the west by the San Andres Uplift; and on the south by the Jarilla Mountains.
After the last ice age, the Tularosa Basin was the site of Lake Otero and the depository of the water soluble gypsum from the Pennsylvanian and Permian Rocks from geological era of 360 million years ago. After the Pennsylvanian and Permian eras and from the Orogrande Basin through Volcanism and Extension Tectonics, the much younger Tularosa Basin was formed and Lake Otero came into existence. It was here that the water soluble gypsum was deposited. Through climate change and evaporation, the selenite crystals began to form eventually breaking down into gypsum sand which was then blown by a predominately northeast wind to form the white fields of gypsum sand dunes that are, to this day, still being created and molded by nature and the wind.
Eolian is a phrase that pertains to being of sand or carried and arranged by wind. The types of Eolian Terrain are: Dunes, meaning sand hill or ridge; Inter Dunes, meaning between the dunes; Sand Sheets, meaning a sandy plain formed by wind; and Sabkhas, meaning a flat area between desert and ocean, or a crusty surface of evaporated minerals. White Sands National Monument is a living ever- changing example of an Eolian Terrain where you are welcomed and encouraged to explore and experience a stroll through a geological history book in action.
Other Educational Information:
Geology is alive and well at White Sands National Monument and occurring every hour of every day. Wherever you look you see evidence of how wind and sand work together to create one of Mother Nature’s most unique and beautiful landscapes. From the beginning of Dune Drive at White Sands National Monument where the vegetation anchors the older parabolic dunes to the furthest most point on the Loop Drive where the barchan and transverse dues collide, the geology of dune development is in constant motion.
Driving the 16 mile round trip offers opportunities of visual wonder and inspires emotions of solitude. But, it is while hiking through the white gypsum dune field, especially the Alkali Flat Trail, that one truly gets the pleasure and awe of understanding the process of dune development. It is on the four mile Alkali Flat Trail that you see bare interdunal areas where the speed of the sand dune’s movement prevents the micro biotic crust development thus preventing seed germination. It is also here where you see barchan dunes reach beyond transverse dunes and where the two dune types become jumbled together before attempting to separate and proceed on their individual way. At Alkali Flat one can see, if you look closely, entire baby dune fields, all in miniature. It is on this trail that you can experience Mother Nature at her artistic geological crescendo, each evidence of wind allows a new sculpture of Nature’s art to be created in a world of white splendor as the soft grains of gypsum sand tumble up and over the ever changing dunal face of white mystery known as White Sands National Monument.
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Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum