White Sands

Howdy from us at White Sands.

January 3 – January 4, 2017.

To visit White Sands we stayed at the Oliver Lee campground ten miles south of Alamogordo, NM. The campground itself is interesting. It is at the base of Dog Canyon, where water flows year round. There is 4,000 year old evidence of visits by Native Americans. And the canyon was used as a base by raiding Apache parties until the 1870’s. We walked a short bit of the trail that leads up the canyon.

The next day we went to the White Sands National Monument. The story here started over 300 million years ago, when Pangea was the Earth’s only continent. This area was under the Permean Sea. When the sea receded, layers of gypsum were left behind. Over time the land rose, mountains pushed up, and water from rain and snow dissolved the gypsum. The gypsum drained down to shallow Lake Lucerno, where it formed into soft, yellow selenite crystals. The weather eventually breaks these crystals down into white sand. The prevailing southwest winds blow the sand into a unique snow-white, 275 square mile desert. The desert itself is only 7 to 10 thousand years old, so the first human visitors here may have seen some of the huge dunes forming.

The dunes are in constant motion. The plants here must survive one of two ways: grow and reproduce quickly, or grow tall enough to reach sunlight when the dune rises around you. And the animals? In the short time this desert has existed, natural selection has favored mice, lizards, and some 30 species of moths who are whiter than their kin outside the desert.

At Oliver Lee, looking up Dog Canyon.
On the trail, looking back down at the campground. Ballena Blanca on left closest to the bottom of the pic.
Looking farther back into Dog Canyon.
Dog Canyon.
Looking south. The view to the north looks similar. Easy to see why this deep canyon was considered a good hideout.
Ballena Blanca at Oliver Lee.
Bob enjoys the drive into White Sands. Looks as though they have trouble keeping sand off the road.
Oh, that’s how they clear the sand off.
This plant’s root system goes deep. The water around the roots makes the sand under the plant hard. Wind has blown the dryer sand away.
Though it looks dry, the water table is less than two feet below the surface in the lower parts of the desert.
These plants have died, but the hardened sand around their roots remains.
In the center of the desert the dunes are huge. Here we are going northward, about halfway through our five mile hike.
The wind carves all kinds of patterns in the sand.
Scanning the horizon for the next short signpost showing us the way. The large dunes can travel 12 feet per year. Someone must have to maintain the positions of the signposts.
We were lucky to have a calm day. It must be really hard to see anything on a windy day.
Footprints on the dune. Nearer to the parking lots you also see lots of snow board prints.
I’ve never worn sunglasses much, even when sailing. Started wearing them today, though.
Here are some ‘grow fast’ plants.
Selenite crystal is #2 on the Mohs hardness scale. Surprising that all this sand comes from crystals like this. (Our evening tour guide passed this around. We didn’t find it.)
Then we climbed to the top of a 40 foot tree. Well, actually we walked up a dune to see the 5 feet that are still visible.
How many decades old is this plant?
Late afternoon in the desert.
Good night, White Sands. We’re going back to the Oliver Lee campground.

**** All pics are click to enlarge.

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