Southwest images

During a recent trip for work, I was able to stay a weekend in White Sands National Monument outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. The park is approximately 275 square miles of white gypsum dunes and is the largest mass of gypsum in the world. Gypsum isn’t usually found in large dunes like this because it dissolves in water. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum dunes and carry it out to sea. The reason this area is still around after thousands of years is because the rain has no where to go. The dunes are trapped in a large basin (Tularosa Basin) between the San Andreas and Sacramento mountains. Yeah, I know what you are thinking – It is strange how mountains in New Mexico are named after areas in California. Rain that falls in the park, eventually dries out and crystallizes and the process repeats. Anyway – enough of a science lesson. The park is an amazing place to visit with a seemingly endless sea of white dunes as far as the eye can see. The only thing framing your view are the mountain ranges in the distance.

Life finds a way - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Life finds a way – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

At the cost of $3.00 to enter (good for 3 or 5 days) it is one of the cheaper National Monuments to visit. Families with kids were making a day out of exploring or sledding down the steep drops of the dunes, just like it was winter in New York State. It is quite easy to get lost while walking through the dunes. I trekked out for a couple of miles searching for dunes without any footprints. It took awhile to find, but they are out there. I used the sun as my guide and drew arrows in the wash areas leaving myself a map to return to my car.  The white gypsum reflects the sun so much that it is almost blinding. The air is very dry and dehydration will set in before you realize it. Plenty of water, sunscreen and good sunglasses are a must. There is primitive camping locations in a remote area of the dunes and motorhome camping at the entrance to the park. I believe a small fee permit is required along with a tent. Once a month, the park has moonlight walks in the dunes for small groups. This can be scheduled by reviewing the park website and submitting a request to attend. The high winds in the basin are what shape the dunes and carve patterns in the sand. This is one of the things that really interested me about the park.

Soaptree Yuca plant - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Soaptree Yuca plant – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

hese patterns in nature go on forever intermingled with Soaptree Yuca, Horay Rosemary Mint or Skunkbush Sumac plants. All of these have found a way to survive in the limited water environment. If you venture out far enough, the patterns in the dunes are only interrupted by the occasional lizard foot prints or by the movement of the leaves being pushed around by the winds. It is areas like this where you can feel truly alone and miles away from everything. 

Sunset - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Sunset – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

This is someplace I am already looking forward to visiting again. Hope you enjoy…