After spending a couple of days in Albuquerque, next leg of our journey took us south to the town of Alamogordo.
Like I said in my previous blog, there is a long list of reasons why you should travel to New Mexico. However, the number 1 reason on that list should be “visiting the White Sands National Monument”. And that’s exactly where we were headed.
Let me give you a visual of this place.
Imagine sand with a texture so fine, it slips through your fingers when you grab a handful. Smooth, like the sand in an hourglass. Imagine a valley- full of such sand, expertly arranged in the form of gentle rolling hills. Countless hills spanning to the horizon, it almost looks artfully designed. Throughout the day, strong winds change the shapes and patterns of dunes, creating an ever-changing landscape.
And If this visual is not enticing enough, imagine the sand to be pristine white, just like the snow!
When I first stepped out of the car, I could not believe how beautiful it was. All my life, I have known sand to be some shade of Yellow or Brown. I’d never imagined that it could be snow white! It was really magical! The sand was so white, that it perfectly reflected the sunlight, making it hard to walk without sunglasses. On the other hand, because they were so white- the dunes were never too hot for walking barefoot.
Why is the sand so white? Well…the sand here primarily consists of white gypsum. Gypsum rarely occurs in sand as it’s water-soluble. Generally, rainwater dissolves it, and rivers carry it to the sea. However, in this case the valley basin has no outlet to the sea, so the rainwater containing gypsum settles in the valley. Eventually rainwater evaporates or drains into ground, leaving behind gypsum in a crystalline form. During the Ice Age,there was a massive lake here. As it dried out over the millennia, it left behind these stunning white dunes.
When we reached the park, it was already late evening and still busy! We parked our car on the roadside, and I walked deeper into the dunes to find an area with no footprints. I had to walk farther than I expected but I got some great images! After spending an hour or so, I decided to go back to the car.
I hadn’t anticipated it, but it was really hard to find my way back. Since its all white everywhere, there are no clearly visible clues of your whereabouts. Every dune looks the same and you can’t really distinguish between two piles of white as the sun drops below the horizon. During the day, sun falls on peaks of dunes creating shadows on the dune-slopes. Our eyes, use these shadows and light to perceive depth. However, as it was getting darker – shadows were starting to disappear. This made it harder to spot where the dune starts to slope downwards. I lost my balance and was disoriented a few times, but I finally found my way.
Next morning, when we came back, I noticed warnings on the nearby trail about how you can get lost amidst white dunes. And I thought it was just me being disoriented the night before! Nevertheless, it’s not dangerous, just some side effects of the bright white sand.
I have always been fascinated by the images of sand dunes in Namibia, or from Australian desert and a few other places. And I always wanted to see one. I’m glad I stumbled upon these! Just because New Mexico was never on my radar, I had never realized that we have these magnificent white dunes right in the US.My next dunes stop will probably be the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado.
Usually when I make big travel plans, I often think of international locations first. Faraway places have their own gravitational pull, for the one who travels. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are equally beautiful places where we live! Can you think of a place in your country that makes you feel like “Why haven’t I been there, yet?”
Read – Part 1 of this series
Checkout – More images of White Sands