White Sands Is The Best Desert
Top Ten Reasons to Visit
White Sands National Park is known for its majestic white, rolling dunes that blanket the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert. Most visitors come for the scenic view, but many don’t know the reasons that make the park so special.
1. It’s a world record. What makes White Sands National Park so breathtaking and popular are the white dunes, which are made up of gypsum. The park covers 275 square miles of white sands, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.
2. Location, location, location. If the gypsum weren’t located in such a hot climate, the dunes wouldn’t exist. Gypsum typically dissolves in water, so the sand would normally get washed away. However, the Chihuahuan Desert is such a dry environment that it allowed the gypsum to form into dunes.
3. Standing on ancient history. The gypsum that makes up the sand dunes was at the bottom of an ocean over 250 million years ago. Calcium and sulfur were at the bottom of the ocean, and those minerals remained as the water in the ocean disappeared over time. Together, the calcium and sulfur formed gypsum.
4. The dunes move. Between February and April the winds are typically strong enough to pick up the sand grains. It takes winds of 17 miles per hour or higher to move the dunes.
5. It’s a cool place during the summer. Visitors can walk on the dunes with bare feet, unlike many other dunes made of quartz-based sand crystals. Because gypsum doesn’t convert the sun's energy into heat, the sand dunes stay comfortably cool, even in the typical 95 degree summer heat.
6. Some species match the white sand. The area has over 800 different animal species, and many of them have adapted to living the harsh environment. Over time, some of the species have lightened in color to match the environment, allowing them to reproduce and survive. Some of these species are Apache Pocket Mouse, Bleached Earless Lizard, Sand-Treader Camel Cricket, Sand Wolf Spider, and the White Moths.
7. Missiles are tested next door. The park is less than five miles from White Sands Missile Range, which periodically test missiles. The missile range tests ammunition, explosions and simulate space exploration, which can cause road closures into the park for up to three hours.
8. Full Moon Hikes. Visitors can join a ranger on the evening before the full moon for an hour guided tour, from May thru October. Because many of the animals and insects are nocturnal, you can see how the animals live and thrive in the desert.
9. Hollywood loves White Sands. Many commercials, music videos, and movies have been filmed at White Sands National Park. The first major motion picture was filmed at the park in 1950. A few popular movies filmed at White Sands includes The Men Who Stare at Goats, Transformers, and Jarhead.
10. Sledding in the summer. Over 500,000 visitors come to the park every year to see the beauty of the park, but also to go sledding down the steep dunes. The visitor center sells sleds throughout the year, and it’s one of the favorite activities of the parks young (and old) visitors.
By Debra Lane
Debra Gulbas Photography
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