Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders -
glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of
desert creating the world's largest gypsum dune field.
White Sands National Monument preserves this dune field, along with the plants and animals that have adapted to this constantly changing environment.
Formal recognition for the uniqueness of the white sands of southern New Mexico came on January 18, 1933, when President Herbert Hoover, acting under the authority of the "Antiquities Act of 1906", proclaimed and established a White Sands National Monument. The monument story, however, can be traced to the waning years of the 19th century and is linked to the nationwide growth of the "national park" idea that followed the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
Efforts to formalize national parks coincided with the dream of a determined group of local promoters that had long sought to attract some kind of development to the Alamogordo area in order to capitalize on the dunes. Many proposals had been submitted regarding commercial development of the gypsum found in the dunes, but none had come to fruition. Seizing on the park idea, Tom Charles, one of the leaders of the boosters, suggested that "gypsum may be divided into two classes - Commercial and Inspirational. The former everybody has, but as for recreational gypsum, we have it all. No place else in the world do you find these alabaster dunes with the beauty and splendor of the Great White Sands".
Interest in the monument, as evidenced by visitation numbers, is proof positive of the clear vision shown by the early park boosters. In its first year the area attracted 12,000 people. By 1948 the number increased to more than 100,000 per year. 1957 marked the first year that visitation topped 300,000, and by 1965 more than 500,000 people were coming to the park each year. In four different years total visitation has exceeded 600,000, the last time as recently as 1986.
Today, and for the future, the park staff faces the challenge of meeting the increased demand for services that the ever-increasing visitation requires, while at the same time insuring the protection of the resources for which the Monument was established.
Our first stop was at the White Sands Visitor Center. There we found the museum with all kinds of souvenirs in the gift shop. If you are a souvenir hunter, you should enjoy this stop.
The Dunes Drive, an eight-mile scenic drive, leads from the Visitor Center into the heart of the dunes. The drive is along a paved road with frequent informational stops. If you like getting more information about what you are experiencing, you will stop at all the pull-offs.
Each of the trails in White Sands National Monument is different. You can explore the various areas and features of the dune field. So have an adventure and enjoy one or all of the park's four trails.
The day we visited the area, it was cloudy. In fact, the area was having a rare thunderstorm. We saw rain in an area that hardly gets rain. Needless to say we did not do much walking. We hope to return to the area soon and experience a few of the trails.
I have been in a number of deserts, but I have never experienced anything like this. The sand (actually powdered gypsum) was so white and powdery it felt like I was driving in snow. FUN!
The visitor center is located on U.S. Highway 70, 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo and 52 miles east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Travelers from Carlsbad Caverns to southern Arizona can follow U.S. 82 through the scenic Sacramento Mountains to reach White Sands National Monument.
White Sands National Monument
Visitor Center Operations:
Nov 7 - Feb 27 9 am - 5 pm
Dec 19 - Jan 2 8 am - 5 pm
Feb 28 - Apr 17 9 am - 6 pm
Apr 18 - Sept 11 8 am - 7 pm
Sept 12 - Nov 5 8 am - 6pm