PO Box 1086
Holloman AFB, NM 88330
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.