Today we visited the newest National Park in the United States. White Sands National Park was designated a National Park last year, prior to that it had been a National Monument since the 1930’s. The upgrade means more funding for infrastructure.
The drive over was a relatively easy 250 miles on I-25. Traffic was light and more importantly there were no 35 mph cross winds. The last 30 miles are thru the White Sands Missile Testing Facility run by the Army. The park is surrounded by the missile testing facility and is sometimes closed due to missile testing.
We arrived at the visitors center right off the main road and our first impression was a little underwhelming. The sand was white, but it was full of the normal desert scrub brush so it was interesting but not impressive. After getting our park passport stamped we headed in on the entrance road and came into the real park and it was indeed impressive.
The white sand is caused by the erosion of gypsum deposits on the surface. There are two places like this in the Chihuahua Desert the one here and a national park in Mexico.
The gypsum deposits cover 250 square miles here. The dunes are incredibly bright and if you stay here a while you need to take care of your eyes because the light is so intense it can cause temporary blindness.
The gypsum has a really different texture to it, it feels more like talcum powder than sand. It is also a little easier to walk on than sand, as it seems to support our weight better. Also because the white reflects the sun the ground is cooler than regular sand. One of the fun activities here is to sand sled, sliding down the hills on Frisbee like sleds.
Despite the inhospitable environment there is a surprising amount of plant and wild life in the park. Many of the plants have adapted to grow quickly when they are covered by sand so they can return to the surface.
The newest national park is a great addition to the system. We hope in the future that they develop a campground in the park as it would be really cool to camp right in the sand for a couple of nights. Right now camping is limited to tents. I am guessing that one of the reasons there is no camping is due to the surrounding missile testing range.