Monday, October 13, 2014

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument is an area of about 275 square miles of gypsum sand dunes, the largest area of its type in the world.  There are dunes with vegetation and vast areas of dunes where there is very little life, either vegetation or animal.  Any animals in this area have evolved throughout the years to white coloration to blend with the sand – such as lizards. 
I started a hike across the dunes, the “trail” was marked by 4’ stakes that were driven into the dunes spaced so that you could see the next one, thereby assuring that you shouldn’t get lost as long as you were paying attention and didn’t wander too far.  The sand is very bright, not exactly white, but very close.  In the bright sun, there were grains that were very shiny and reflective.  Luckily, I had remembered to put sunscreen on my face, or the reflection would have burned me. 
The trail was over a sand dune, down the other side and up the side of the next one, then repeat.  In some places, the sand was soft and very deep – just like a beach with lots of loose sand.  In other places it was more hard packed, easier to walk in.  There were areas with ripple patterns made by the wind blowing over the sand.  When it blows over the roads, they have to plow it and there are piles on the sides of the road, looking suspiciously like snow.
I was probably about a half mile into the trail, having just trudged up the side of one dune, standing there on top, looking at unlimited dunes in front of me, with the mountain range in the far distance.  It was very dramatic, something I had not seen before and something I may never see again.  There were miles of dunes in all directions, nothing else in sight except for those mountains way off.  As I looked at the next trail marker, on the top of the next dune, with a valley between the two dunes, I decided I had gone far enough.  It was very hard walking through the soft sand and I had not started early enough in the morning.  It turned out to be a good decision because I found out the trail was 5 miles long, not the two miles I had thought.  And by the time I got back to the beginning, it was lunchtime. 
There were lots of families there and the kids had plastic saucer type toys to slide down the steeper dunes, other people were using flat cardboard to slide down.  As I was leaving the hiking trail, two people started on the trail with those saucer type sliders – I told them it was a great idea, they can hike up one side and then slide down the other side.  Meanwhile, it could be used as a sun shade!  It sure looked like it would have made the hike more fun.
The area is definitely unique and totally different from the rest of the surrounding area, which is part of the Chihuahuan Desert that is mostly in Mexico, but extends to parts of southern New Mexico. 

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