Thursday, November 5, 2009

Scenic Wonderland - Alamogordo - White Sands National Monument

White Sands of New Mexico:

Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert and created the world's largest gypsum dune field.
White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this unique dune field, along with the plants and animals that have successfully adapted to this constantly changing environment.

White Sands Institute
Have you ever wanted to take a photography workshop led by a professional photographer in New Mexico’s most visited national park area? Or learn about the unique animal and plant species of New Mexico’s White Sands?
Field seminars combining a mixture of outdoor field excursions along with classroom presentations. Will be taught by renown experts. Information about other classes for the 2010 season will be posted later in fall of 2009.

The White Sands Institute field seminars combine a mixture of outdoor field excursions along with classroom presentations. All courses will take place at White Sands National Monument. The field seminars will be taught in small groups, so interested individuals are advised to register as soon as possible before classes fill up. To register for classes or for more information, contact New Mexico State University – Alamogordo’s Office of Community Services at 575-439-3842. The class schedule for 2010 will be posted in early 2010. Please check back at that time.

 Did You Know?
Only a handful of gypsum dune fields exist and the white sands dune field is by far the world's largest, covering 275 square miles.

Nature and Science
Gypsum dunes

The largest pure gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Monument in south-central New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an "internally drained valley" called the Tularosa Basin. The monument ranges in elevation from 3890' to 4116' above sea level. There are approximately 275 total square miles of dune fields here, with 115 square miles (about 40%) located within White Sands National Monument. The remainder is on military land that is not open to the public. This dune field is very dynamic, with the most active dunes moving to the northeast at a rate of up to 30 feet per year, while the more stable areas of sand move very little. The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) that forms these unusual dunes originates in the western portion of the monument from an ephemeral lake or playa with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates (theoretically as much as 80" per year!), the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually are wind-transported to form these white sand dunes. Many species of plants and animals have developed very specialized means of surviving in this area of cold winters, hot summers, with very little surface water and highly mineralized ground water

Photo of kangaroo rat

Did You Know?
Because there is virtually no fresh water within the white sands dune field, animals that live in the dunes must get almost all their water solely from the food they eat. Desert animals have evolved many ways of conserving moisture. The kangaroo rat eats only dry seeds and never drinks water.

Did You Know?

Did You Know?
Unlike most other birds, which have three front toes and one back toe, the roadrunner has two front and two back toes, allowing it to run down its prey. Look for its distinct X-shaped tracks on the white sands.

Photo of white lizard

Did You Know?
Three species of lizards, one pocket mouse and numerous species of insects have evolved a white coloration for survival in the white sands.

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