White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

During our weekend in Las Cruces, we visited a remarkable natural phenomenon, the White Sands National Monument.  This place was SO cool!  I wish we could have spent more time exploring the visitor center exhibits and landscape because it is truly so unique.

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The dunefield is so cool!  It is a result of thousands of years of rain and wind, which weathered away the gypsum in the surrounding desert mountains.  This weathering resulted in the largest gypsum dunefield in the world!  The dunefield is home to many, unique desert plants and animals, which have all (very quickly) adapted to the unique environment.  The entire area surrounding the dunefield is your standard, desert brown (you can see the desert mountains in the distant background).  The plants and animals all camouflage with that color-scheme.  In the dunefield, however, the animals have evolved to camouflage into the white sands (think white lizards, rabbits, coyotes, etc.).  Though we didn’t see any wildlife, the visitor’s center had great exhibits describing this and it was so fascinating!

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We did see many plants (trees and cacti), which seemed so interesting!  The plants have evolved so that they can survive in the gypsum sand or grow extra-long roots to dig down, below the sands.  Another fascinating fact is that most plants are mobile…meaning, they can move as the dunes shift.  This national monument is ever-changing!  The dunes move a few feet every year as the wind blows them, so everything has to be flexible in this landscape.

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The dunefield is so vast, it makes you feel SO small!  Though there are hiking trails throughout the dunefield, we did not explore too far into the dunes.  Obviously hiking in the desert is a unique challenge.  We didn’t feel properly prepared or confident in our dune-navigating skills, though the trails seemed to be well-marked.  Also, even though it was early November and the morning started out chilly, it was quickly warming up on the dunefield!

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Big man looks small in the dunefield!  Just a quick side note, Jon forgot sunglasses for this day trip and it was SERIOUSLY bright!  He didn’t complain but definitely could have used some polarized shades to block the sun and reflection off of the pure, white sand.

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Let’s talk about hiking/walking in sand- it’s tough!  It’s literally two steps forward, one step back, the whole way!  We probably explored out and back a half mile but it took close to an hour.  If you’re planning on a day hike in the dunes, be sure to forget your mileage and just have fun.  Being in the dunes is such a unique place- no hiking can compare.

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After visiting White Sands, we hit the road to see the Valley of Fires, which is a New Mexico recreation area.  It took a couple of hours to get to and ended up being cool but somewhat of a let down (especially compared to White Sands).  We saw the lava flows, which consist of black lava called Malpais.  It was neat but not exactly worth the long drive.

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This day trip outside of Las Cruces was truly unique and we really enjoyed exploring the New Mexico landscape.

Happy Trials!

K, J and P

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