White Sands National Monument is a gem in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. The park is comprised of 275 square miles of white sand dunes that are composed of gypsum crystals. Make sure to stop by the visitor center to learn about the history and geology of the dunes, and don't forget to pick up a sled. Sledding is allowed in the loop portion, where there is no vegetation. Leaving the visitor center, the road loops around the heart of the sand dunes in a short drive. There are three picnic areas and five hiking trails of various difficulty throughout the park.
White Sands is the largest dune field of its kind in the world, since gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand. Over time, rain dissolves gypsum and carries it down from the mountains that surround the Tularosa Basin. Because the particles of gypsum have nowhere to go, they accumulate into dunes. When it rains in this region, the water either sinks into the ground or forms pools on the surface that rapidly evaporate and leave selenite (a crystalline form of gypsum). The ground at Alkali Flat, located at the northern edge of the park, is covered with these crystals. Wind erosion then breaks them back into smaller particles. Because of the wind, dunes continuously change shape. Plants in the area can only be successful if they can grow quickly enough to avoid being buried.