There exists in southern New Mexico, west of Roswell, a national monument of sorts – an actual national monument, really; White Sands, a nearly 300 square mile desert of white gypsum sand and wave-like dunes, the world’s largest desert of white gypsum. Resting in the centre of the Tularosa Basin, White Sands National Monument preserves a significant part of the dunefield and the unique flora and fauna that reside therein.
It may be a remote part of one of the nation’s less populated states but for that very reason, White Sands National Monument and the surrounding area holds a very special and specific part of American history; this is directly related to the presence nearby of the White Sands Missile Range, a weapons-testing site for the United States military and the location of the first atomic bomb test, far to the north at the fabled Trinity site.
While I didn’t visit White Sands with any interest in the latter, I did visit the monument and traverse some of its white gypsum dunes on a rather nice road trip.
White Sands is roughly 100 miles north of El Paso, Texas, 226 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and 564 miles from Denver, Colorado which makes it an easier trip the closer you live for quite obvious reasons. On a drive from Denver, you can see White Sands in NM, the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, and the mountains in between while hitting the urban centers of both Sante Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico, a combined trip that would make it several days but very interesting in contrast (see my article on the Great Sand Dunes National Park here).
White gypsum dunes are rare and this is the largest site on Earth – and indeed, the dunes stretch for nearly as far as the eye can see, backed by the Rocky Mountain range to the West.
Rare flora and fauna populate the dunes, small bushes and certain insects – the visitor’s center at the entrance has the complete rundown.