Aug 4, 2011

White Sands National Monument: The World's Largest Gypsum Dune Field

White_Sands_National_Monument_01Located at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert of Southern New Mexico, lies the amazing national treasure known as the White Sands National Monument. Within this national monument you will find the largest concentration of white pristine gypsum sand in the world.

This almost snow-like-sand is produced by the Tularosa Basin. The basin was formed by the collapse of a dome made up of the gypsum sand. The collapse occurred about ten million years ago and what remains of the sides of the original dome are what we now call the San Andreas and Sacramento Mountain ranges.

White_Sands_National_Monument_02Photo: Jennifer Willbur

How is the White Sand Created?

What makes this place so unique is that the common mineral of gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) is rarely seen in the form of sand because it is so easily soluble in water. The natural elements of rain and snow carry the gypsum from the mountains down to the Tularosa Basin, but there are no streams to wash the mineral away from the basin into the ocean.

The mineral, therefore, accumulates and crystallizes into sand that gets blown around by the desert winds which over the centuries has formed what we see today at White Sands. One of the basin’s lowest points is Lake Lucero. This lake is primarily a dry bed, but sometimes fills with water which then evaporates and leaves behind deposits of gypsum sand on the surface. At White Sands there are: Dome, Barchan, Transverse and Parabolic dunes. These terms denote the shape and direction of the dunes. The park consists of glistening white dunes that stretch over 275 miles of desert landscape.

Gypsum_plant_standGypsum plant stand Photo: Mila Zinkova

White_Sands_National_Monument_03View of White Sands Photo: Chitrapa

White_Sands_National_Monument_04Gypsum sand from the White Sands National Monument. Photo: Wilson44691

White_Sands_National_Monument_05Bleached earless lizard at White Sands NM. Photo: Kevinp2

White_Sands_National_Monument_From_SpaceWhite Sands National Monument from space. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory








White_Sands_National_Monument_13Moonrise. Photo: Peekaboo Moon

Sources: 1, 2, 3


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