February, 2015 – The first thing we noticed when we arrived at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, was the beautiful patterns in the sand. The wind leaves ripples across the sand, the way the ocean does at the beach, and the patterns wriggled away from us in semi-parallel lines as far as we could see.
When we first were driving towards the National Monument, we wondered where the sand was, becauase all we could see was vast brown landscapes all around us. But as soon as we got onto the Dunes Drive inside the park, the white sand enveloped us on all sides.
The sand was virgin in most places, filled with patterns that Mother Nature chose. But in some spots we saw the tracks of little creatures and the footprints of people, some wearing shoes and many running barefoot!
There are hundreds of square miles of brilliant white sand in this area, and White Sand National Monument encloses 223 of those square miles. The sand is a crystallized form of gypsum that usually dissolves in the rain before being washed away. But this area is in a basin that doesn’t drain, which leaves beautiful dunes and “beaches” on the earth’s surface.
There are many different kinds of dunes, and sand piles, and flat open expanses of sand. Desert plants poke up through the sand here and there, and the light and shadows play with each other on the dune faces as the sun travels across the sky.
We were enchanted by the patterns we found everywhere. In some places the sand makes crisp little ridges, and in others the sand undulated in large, soft waves.
It was nearly Valentine’s Day, and Mark got inspired, drawing hearts and writing “Sweety” and my name in the sand. We played with making shadow puppets and made two wonderful hearts as we stood side by side. As we looked down at our perfect shadows on the ground, we both said simultaneously, “Now all we need is someone to take our picture!” Oh well, no one was around so we got just one heart shadow instead of two.
We were both drawn to the beauty in totally different ways, and we ran off in different directions to try to capture it. I turned around at one point and saw Mark lying down in the sand! Luckily, the sand brushes off really easily. His little bit of lolling around on this desert beach yielded some beautiful photos from sand level!
White Sands National Monument is a really FUN park. We watched kids making snow angels in the sand and families sledding down hills on flying saucers they’d rented at the visitors center. The beauty of this crazy sand paradise is that whenever the wind blows, the tracks left by people are erased, and the sand palette is wiped clean.
Like an old fashioned Etch-A-Sketch, or a sand castle made at low tide, you can leave your mark here, but only for a short while.
The road that goes through the park isn’t paved. Instead, the National Park Service seems to use a snowplow to clear the sand to the sides! Some people bring their RVs down the Dunes Drive, but it looked like their wheel wells got pretty sandy.
Our visit was way too brief, and we didn’t get to see the magic hours of sunrise and sunset. Oh well — next time!!!
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