White Sands is unique while feeling oddly familiar. Windy, check. Dried grassy landscape, check. Blowing sand, check. Sand the colour of snow, now that’s something new to check off the list.
White Sands is a National Monument in New Mexico that is comprised of gypsum sand or eroded salt crystals. This white sand encompasses an area that is the largest of its kind on Earth, creating an immense dune field. The sand is water-soluble so it’s unique to find it in such large quantities. As it turns out, White Sands National Monument is in the Tularosa Basin which has no outlet to the sea. Any gypsum that is dissolved ends up in flowing towards Lake Lucero where it forms Selenite crystals that will eventually erode back into sand. This continual process over millions of years has created a truly unique setting.
On the day we arrived it was quite windy, which apparently was the norm for this time of the year. We quickly rented a toboggan disc and headed out to the dunes. The drive started on a paved road and quickly transitioned to a hard-packed sand/salt surface? Whatever it was, our trailer didn’t like it as it danced behind us with ever-increasing bounces. We decided to pull over before the tallest dunes considering we needed our trailer to survive and the visibility reminded us of a Southern Alberta blizzard! The gypsum sand seemed to form a harder or more packed surface making it easier to walk across the dunes. You didn’t have that sinking or sliding feeling typical of sand and we were glad after our previous foray in the dunes of Death Valley. The wind however flung the sand at us with a much more abrasive sensation. Like upgrading from sandpaper to a cheese grater. Needless to say, we took a few runs down the sand and headed back to return our disc.
Our stop was quick but worthwhile. The more biomes and habitats we visit the more we can push our students to see their environment as unique too. We want to push are students so that what they think is mundane around them is as unique and special as the places we visit.