Tuesday January 30th 2018
I drove northeast on US Highway 70 to the White Sands National Monument. The first twenty five to thirty miles is across the city of Las Cruces and its valley. The mountains that look close from the RV park are a long way away. After crossing the mountain pass at fifty one hundred feet the road crosses the White Sands Missile Range for the next thirty five to forty miles. The White Sands National Monument is on the far east side of the Missile Range closer to the town of Alamongordo NM.
The White Sands National Monument is the biggest area of Gypsum sand dunes in the world. It is formed from the gypsum left from ancient oceans that covered the area. A regular southwest wind keeps the dunes forming and shifting. The area retains water on the surface during wet times of the year and inches below the surface during drier times. Today, during one of the drier times, wet gypsum sand could be seen in some areas of the road surface.
I started my visit with the orientation movie at the visitors center. It talked about the formation of the dunes, the wildlife that inhabit the area and the experiences of man with the dunes from the Mescalero Apache to the Spanish and Anglo settlers. This movie rated high on my approval scale. It stuck with facts and information as opposed to pushing an agenda.
From the visitors center I drove the scenic drive, stopping at the information signs and at the Dune Life Nature trail. The Dune Life Nature trail is about a mile through an area of the dunes near the edge of the dune field. It has more vegetation than the areas at the center of the dune field. I didn’t hike the Alkall Flat Trail in the middle of the dune field. It was just to much white sand that reminded me of cold wet snow.
The Dune Life Nature trail was very interesting. It had just enough vegetation to break up the white. There were many signs of animal life but I didn’t see any ground creatures. There were some birds in the distance. On the edges of the dunes it was easy to see tracks in the sand of different animals.
The scenic drive is paved for the first four miles. It then transitions to packed gypsum sand. They are constantly running a road grader to keep the drifting sand under control and the wet areas packed down. There wasn’t a lot of traffic today. It was easy to avoid soft or wet areas on the road. On busy days it might be more of a challenge.
The White Sands National Monument was interesting. I would certainly visit again if I’m in the area or passing by. I don’t think I’d drive seventy miles from the west side of Las Cruces again.
This evening back at camp I watched the sunset in the west and the moon rise over the mountains to the east of Las Cruces as the sunset.