Up bright and early Tuesday morning, we departed Palm Creek and Casa Grande, Arizona, driving south then west with no particular overnight stopping place in mind. Our original plan had been to travel northeast, over the White Mountains, to near Petrified Forest National Park, the Interstate 40 to home; a 24-inch snowfall in the White Mountains a couple days before scuttled those plans. To make things a bit more challenging, just a day before our departure, the interstate past Tucson was closed due to high winds and dust.
Fortunately, little to no wind and clear skies accompanied the day’s drive. We received a message from fellow travelers that RV sites were hard to come by on the way to Arkansas. After some discussion, we opted to stop in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and then visit White Sands National Park, recently renamed from White Sands National Monument.
Arriving fairly early in the afternoon, the motorhome was set up (on hooked up the electricity), a picnic lunch was made, and we were off to White Sands NP.
The 50-minute drive took us through White Sands Missile Range where the US space program began.
White Sands National Park is completely surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range. White Sands was established as a national monument in 1933 and re-desginated as a national park in 2019. Today, its location between several military bases means the monument is sometimes closed due to missile tests. The park covers 145,762 acres in the Tularosa Basin, including the southern 41% of a 275 square mile field of white dunes composed of gypsum crystals.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. Major activities include hiking, sliding down the dunes, and just walking the dunes.
After watching the sunset, we returned to the RV for the evening.