White Sands is very cool and eerie. You drive on roads that are surrounded on all sides by the dunes, and begin to feel that you are on the moon. The sand feels like sugar running between your fingers.
Ok, so much for sands.
Let's get serious. While we were driving through the desert, since Ann was the driver, I became the designated navigator. On the maps, I came across 'White Sand Missile Range'. So, what do you think it is?
Here's what I found on the guide book we bought in the bookstore. Excerpt quoted from the guide: 'At 5:29 on the morning of July 16, 1945, a light flashed across the New Mexico desert so bright that it was seen from Arizona to Texas. A blind college girl, riding in a car near Soccoro in those dawn hours, asked what the flash of light was. Unknown to her & to most of the rest of the world at that moment, the light resulted from the explosion of a plutonium bomb, a test known as 'Trinity,' in the Jornada del Muerot sixty-five miles northwest of White Sands. The people present at the test still remember the brilliant light most vividly. That light represented the imminent end of World War II & it changed the world forever. The United States government had decided that this lonely part of New Mexico was ideal terrain for military operations. The Trinity Test Site was located within the Alamogordo Bombing & Gunnery Range, established in 1942, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Following the test in 1945 traditional portions of the Tularosa Basin were set aside as White Sands Proving Ground. The gunnery range & proving ground were consolidated & renamed White Sands Missile Range in 1958.'
For more details, please proceed to WorldwideSchool.org.
Observe life. In this constant moving sand dunes, the Soaptree Yucca is the largest plant that managed to adapt to the harsh environment & grow here.
Officially called Yucca Elata it is also the New Mexico state flower. It's named according to the roots' function. Known as Amole, they were used by Indians & early settlers for soap.
Sumac on pedestal.
Ok, I'm no experts on plants & shrubs.
So, for your reading pleasure, this is the excerpt from the guidebook: 'A few plants form large pedestals of sand. One dramatic example of a pedestral-builder at White Sands is skunkbush sumac, also called squawbush. These shrubs bind gypsum grains into a compact mass around their tangled roots, branches & trunk. When the sand blows away, or deflates, the plant stays put, 'wrapped in a root-bound plaster cast,' in the words of one naturalist. Sumac grows on top of pedestals & spills over them like a mane of dark, shaggy hair. These shrubs provide habitat, shelter, & food for many White Sands creatures as well. Wildlife browse the leaves & build nests & burrows in the shady, cool base of the sumac. Birds eat the red, citric berries.'
Well, unless you have the proper military clearance, you can't really SEE anything here, except for signs telling you to keep out or you could get blown up... basically... but... there are also signs for entrances.. maybe there's a visitor's center or something, but White Sands is mainly full of empty, flat space.
Actually, the Yucca - and other plants as well - grow with the height of the dunes. Their roots reach far down to find water. At the same time, the roots catch the sand and hold it. Even when the dunes move, the Yucca will still stand, and if sand covers it, it will grow towards the light.
White Sands National Monument covers 300 square kilometres of extra white desert.
The first quality anyone mentions is that is not really sand, it gypsum, hydrated calcium, that looks so extremely white. If you plan to come for a walk or picnic, bring lots of water! White Sands is hot!
It's called scenic drive.
But frankly, it's all white. Very bright, very glaring.
The fun part is not the drive.
It's walking on the sand...
In August, temperatures may well reach up to 40 °C during the day. Still, the sand is wonderfully cool. Walk with your bare feet, it is a great feeling.
Wander off into the dune fields - but make sure you know the direction back to your car! It is easy to lose one´s way in here.
Summer brings thunderstorms to the area, and the water will remain for a few hours, forming a little lake.
The plants struggle hard to survive. The area is very dry, with only about 200 mm precipitation p.a..
Take the Heart of Sands Loop Drive (26 km) which will take you right into the dunes.
I was told they use snow ploughs to clear the track.
That evening I found that I had a pretty bad sunburn UNDER my chin. The white sand will reflect the beams of the sun, hence you get sunburnt in places you thought were in the shade.