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White Sands National Monument

The White Sands National Monument is a U.S. National Monument located about 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo in western Otero County and northeastern Dona Ana County in the state of New Mexico, at an elevation of 4,235 feet. The area is in the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin and comprises the southern part of a 275-square miles field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals.


 


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PO Box 1086
Holloman AFB, NM 88330

Phone
Park Information
(505) 679-2599

Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert and created the world's largest gypsum dune field.

White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this unique dune field, along with the plants and animals that have successfully adapted to this constantly changing environment.

Getting There
The visitor center is located on U.S. Highway 70, 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo and 52 miles east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Travelers from Carlsbad Caverns to southern Arizona can follow U.S. 82 through the scenic Sacramento Mountains to reach White Sands National Monument.

SEEING THE PARK

Your first stop should be the White Sands Visitor Center, which includes a museum, information desk, orientation video, book store, gift shop and restrooms. Allow approximately 30 minutes for Visitor Center activities. The Visitor Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

The Dunes Drive, an eight-mile scenic roadway, leads from the Visitor Center into the heart of the White Sands dune field. Allow 30 minutes driving time for this sixteen-mile round trip, plus additional time for hiking, photography, sand play and other recreational activities.

The Heart of the Sands Nature Center, located near the end of the Dune Drive, highlights the plants and animals that have adapted to life in the white sands.  Due to staffing limitations, the Nature Center has irregular hours.

Places to Picnic

  • The Heart of the Sands Nature Center

  • Visitors Center

Nature

The largest pure 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 3,890' to 4,116' 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.

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