Where All Critters Are Translucent–Except the Tarantula

275 square miles of white sand, with dunes as tall as 60 feet high. That’ll inspire a creature to evolve from colorful to translucent, dontcha think? Both for temperature control and for survival.

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It’s truly so white that it’s blinding. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is anticlimactic while you’re on the ground. Sure, sure, it’s cool to have walls of sand as you curve and meander through the park. But you don’t get it until you climb a dune. It’s softer than beach sand in terms of walking–you sink like you do in snow. It’s also softer to the touch–kinda like fine cornmeal. It is gypsum, after all, not traditional silica.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr.

What’s gypsum? (I didn’t know before the visitor center video.)  To put it in human context, it’s used to make plaster and drywall. Its natural path to this natural wonder starts with snowmelt and rain. They dissolve the gypsum on their descent through the mountains, which ends in desert lakes. When the lakes dry up, as they seasonally are want to do in a desert, gypsum crystals are left behind. This crystal is softer than a fingernail!  And then the wind blows. Wind, water, and time–anyone surprised? What is surprising is that this happened within the past 4,000-7,000 years, barely a moment in geological time that usually measures in the millions of years.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr.

The wind breaks of pieces of the gypsum crystal: as they fly and have friction with other surfaces, they become smaller and ultimately sand. The wind leads in the direction of the dunes, and ta da!


Photo courtesy of Flickr.

But the wind isn’t done. At just 15mph it can pick up the loose top layer and move it further, causing the White Sands area to advance. New dunes advance 38 feet a year! Those at the edges that are stabilized by plants move only a few feet. But they still move.


Photo courtesy of Flickr.

The wind is a powerful force and I felt it on top of the dunes. You can hear it, feel its power, see the movement while you stand there.


Photos courtesy of Flickr.


Photo courtesy of Flickr.

In addition to glorious beauty and potent wind, it’s also awesome for sledding! You can’t help but laugh, and you can hear people throughout the park. I don’t know what carries the sound since it’s not solid–perhaps the wind?


Photos courtesy of Flickr. Except the one with the lone sled–that’s the “route” I took.




When was the last time you went sledding?

Disclosure: except for the pics of my shadow and footprints, all others are from Flickr.

6 Responses


WOW! What vistas. A spot I had never hear of. I check in periodically and am blown away.

Stay well,

Rita – thanks for stopping by! Glad you had a good time!


Wow – I have never been dune sledding. Nature’s free microdermabrasion … possibly macro.

Jef – has Jake booked a ticket yet? 🙂

WOW! I love this place, and I’ve never been but for your blog. I am so looking forward to it! Here’s to dune sledding ’cause I am not fond of the cold. Sounds glorious!


Regina – a tip. You have to wax the bottom of the sled! My campground loaned me theirs and a stick of wax. But you can buy them at the entrance, too.

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