White Sands National Monument
The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Monument in south-central New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an "internally drained valley" called the Tularosa Basin. The monument ranges in elevation from 3890' to 4116' above sea level. There are approximately 275 total square miles of dune fields here, with 115 square miles (about 40%) located within White Sands National Monument. The remainder is on military land that is not open to the public. This dune field is very dynamic, with the most active dunes moving to the northeast at a rate of up to 30 feet per year, while the more stable areas of sand move very little. The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) that forms these unusual dunes originates in the western portion of the monument from an ephemeral lake or playa with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates (theoretically as much as 80" per year!), the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually are wind-transported to form these white sand dunes. Many species of plants and animals have developed very specialized means of surviving in this area of cold winters, hot summers, with very little surface water and highly mineralized ground water.
Getting to the Park
The visitor center is located on Highway US-70 between the cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces.
From Alamogordo, NM:
Drive time: About 15 minutes
Head west on Highway US-70. The visitor center is located about 15 miles (24 km) west of Alamogordo on the north side (right-hand side) of the road.
From Las Cruces, NM:
Drive time: About 1 hour
Head east on Highway US-70 towards Alamogordo. The visitor center is located about 52 miles (84 km) east of Las Cruces on the north side (left-hand side) of the road, one mile past the Border Patrol station.
From El Paso, TX:
There are two ways to arrive at White Sands from El Paso.
Through Las Cruces:
Drive time: 1.5 hours.
1) Take I-10 West towards Las Cruces. After 39 miles, take exit on to I-25 North. Follow I-25 North for about 7 miles and then exit onto US-70 East towards Alamogordo. Drive for about 52 miles to the visitor center.
Drive time: 1.5 hours
2) Take US-54 East towards Alamogordo and drive about 82 miles. Then turn left onto US-70 West towards Las Cruces. The visitor center will be about 15 miles down on the right-hand side.