white sands gypsum

White Sands National Park: It’s Gypsum!

White Sands National Park, 19955 US highway 70 W, Alamogordo, NM

Directions From Bosque Farms, MN

Highway 25 S to 380 heading East 54 South, 70 West 220 miles.  There are a couple routes to take from the Albuquerque area.  The scenery on this route was pleasant and there was minimal traffic verses the GPS suggestion.

A great stop before or after the park is McGinns Park Pistachioland 320 U.S. Hwy. 54/70 North Alamogordo, NM 88310.  Home to the largest pistachio, they offer tours of the farm.  There is a winery and I really enjoyed the pistachio ice cream made with pistachio’s rather than pistachio almond that you get at the grocery store.

White Sand Dunes National Park is in Southern New Mexico off High 70.   It is located within the largest Military Base in the United States, The White Sands Missile Range and due to missile launches will close Dunes Drive, the only road in the park.  Check web site to confirm it will be opened.

The scenic drive is sixteen-mile round trip taking you through some of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders. It takes approximately 45 minutes.  You may want to allow additional time to explore the dunes, take photos, and learn about the natural and cultural history of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.  Along the road, you will find outdoor exhibits, hiking trails, picnic areas, vault toilets, and parking areas.

The first five miles of Dunes Drive are paved and the last three miles are a hard-packed gypsum sand road.  The road is suitable for cars, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and buses. The day I visited there was a short area on the road where the sand had blown into the road, making the ride on a motorcycle a bit precarious, like riding through a snowdrift.  According to the park information if it rains the road will become slick, adding a little more challenge to the ride.

Surprising activity is sledding on the dunes.  Unlike snow, sand is not slippery and sledding down the face of a dune can take some practice unless you have the correct equipment, know proper techniques, and use safety precautions. Waxed plastic snow saucers work best and can be purchased at the park’s gift shop. You may also bring your own sleds.

I highly recommend checking out the park ranger programs at all the national parks, though I did not attend the evening moonlight presentations which range from hikes to musical performances, would be worthwhile if you get the chance to attend.

Interesting facts about White Sand Dunes and Gypsum:

Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dune field.  An ancient sea covered most of the southwestern United States.  It was during this time that layers of gypsum were deposited on the seafloor.  The rise and fall of the sea level millions of years ago started the process of making the gypsum sand that covers the monument today.  Gypsum dissolves over time in water, therefore gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand.

It doesn’t retain heart and never gets hot even on the hottest of days, it will remain cold to touch.

The National Park houses 4.5 billion tons of gypsum, enough to circle the equator in box cars twenty-five times or supply the U.S. drywall industry for hundreds of years.

In 2004 the Mars Rover Opportunity confirmed gypsum dunefields on the surface of Mars. The formation of gypsum is associated with water, which led to new research about the possibility of life on Mars.

Gypsum is water soluble and forms by evaporation or as a result of the mineral anhydrite being hydrated.

It is mined around the globe, with many uses including as a fertilizer, construction material, such as wall boards, architectural and sculpture applications as well as pharmaceutical and food additive uses.