Can you imagine sand that is as white as snow and as fine as sugar? We found them at White Sands National Monument. It holds the world’s largest gypsum sand dunes that covers 275 square miles. It was a warm beautiful morning in Alamogordo. Temperature was at the lower 70s, about 10 degrees warmer than usual. White sand dunes with vegetation appeared in the distance at the feet of imposing San Andres Mountains.
Driving into the heart of the sand dune area, we found ourselves in a wonderland. The glistening white sand dunes shone like snow under the bright sunlight. We parked by a sand dune and grabbed the sled saucers went sledding the sand dune. Stephen tried it first. “It is hard to climb up!” He told me while trudged his way up the white sand dune. “Going down was a lot easier!” He said in panting after sliding down the slope. I felt the softness of the sand when I put my first step up the steep slope. It took me some efforts to the top. The view was magnificent! Miles of miles of bright white sands stretched across Tularosa Basin. It was like snow in winter blanketing the fields. I sat on the pink sled saucer and there I went sledding! The saucer carried me down the sand dune smoothly in seconds. That was fun! Like a child, I did it three times.
We drove to the start of Alkali Flat Trail. This strenuous 5-mile trail takes you to the biggest sand dunes with few footprints. There were open alkali flats with sparse vegetation lying among sand dunes. We walked to the base of a tall sand dune. I climbed up to the top from its ramp and grabbed a handful of gypsum sand. It was pure white. The glittery white sand dropped from the gaps of my fingers like grains of sugar. Wind created subtle ripples and waves on the surface of dunes. Footprints made chaotic marks on some areas of the dunes. Looking across the field of dazzling white sand dunes to the west, the hazy blue San Andres Mountains rose above the basin. Sacramento Mountains lied on the east in the distant. This vast area of white sand dunes is visible from space.
The white sand is gypsum sand. Water and wind break down the selenite crystals at Lake Lucero into fine sand. An ancient sea covered this area millions of years ago. The sea retreated and left layers of gypsum. When mountains rose, gypsum was carried up to the mountains. Water carried gypsum down the mountains to the shallow Lake Lucero. Unlike other sand, gypsum sand remains cool in hot weather. The soft and white sand under my bare feet was smooth and soothing. I only walked on the loop for a short distance then returned. But I walked up the gentle slope of the sand dunes at the end of the trail. To my surprise, the slope was sturdy and was easy to climb up. Later I learned that it was water that bounds the sand dunes. There was water just several feet down the surface. Water keeps gypsum dunes from being blown away by high wind in spring. There was a large gypsum sand dune area in Mexico. But it was not protected and the size has shrunk dramatically. Mexican farmers overdrew water and gypsum dunes were blown away. Sitting on top of the white sand dunes, I appreciated this pure and surreal view.
The guided evening sunset stroll at 4 p.m. was nice. A group of people showed up despite the chill late afternoon breeze. We checked out the holes on pedestals of sand held by roots of plants. Animals and plants adapted themselves to survive in this unique white world. Animals become light colored and easily blend in the environment. They live in dens or holes on pedestals of sand where are cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Plants keep growing on pedestals of sand after the dune moved. Soaptree yucca survives by growing tall. A soaptree yucca on top of a sand dune seems so small, yet it is even taller than the sand dune because its stem grows through the sand and its roots extend downward to the water. I picked up a piece of sandy block from the sand pedestal. It crumbled into small pieces when it hit the ground. There was only moisture that keeps the sand into a block shape. A small force will break it into pieces. Water is such a precious resource in deserts. The Oliver Lee Ranch by the campground was filled with grass 133 years ago. But now it is a desert. The speed of desertification is alarming!
I sat on the sand dune and watched the sun going down behind the San Andres Mountains. A yucca with dry bell shaped flowers on the long stem stood proudly above the sand dune, saying good night to the setting sun. A hue of dreamy blue color enveloped the field of sand dunes. It was like a fairyland. This land is constantly change. Hope this magic land will not be blown away and stays pure and white for many years to come.