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White Sands National Park, NM

About White Sands National Monument About 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo on US 70, White Sands National Park is the source of rare gypsum sands that form snow-white dunes rising up to 60 feet above the Tularosa Basin floor.

Covering 275 square miles, the massive dunes are created when rain and melting snow dissolve gypsum from the surrounding mountains and carry it into Lake Lucero, a seasonal lake, or playa. Desert heat evaporates the water, causing gypsum crystals to form. Dry winds expose the crystals, eroding them into sand-sized particles that are blown into the dune field.

Much of this wide sea of dunes is bare of vegetation. A few species of plants exhibit remarkable adaptation to the shifting sands; the stem of the soaptree yucca stretches up to 30 feet to keep the plant from being buried.

Drinking water is available only at the visitor center; covered picnic sites and restrooms are in the heart of the dunes area. Interactive exhibits at the visitor center describe the origin and history of White Sands, and a video is shown every half hour.

Ranger-guided sunset strolls are offered daily 1 hour before sunset, except on Christmas. There are several hiking trails; brochures describing desert hiking safety can be obtained at the visitor center. On full-moon nights from May through October, the park remains open until 11 p.m. so visitors can witness celestial light reflecting off the dunes. Music and educational programs pertaining to New Mexico's heritage and the monument's geology, plants and animals also are presented on full-moon nights.

Scenic, 16-mile round-trip Dunes Drive can be entered daily 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Memorial Day weekend-Labor Day; 7 a.m.-dusk, rest of year. It is subject to closures of up to 3 hours during missile testing. Visitors must exit the park by 1 hour after dusk, except on full-moon nights May-Oct. Visitor center open daily 9-5; phone for extended summer hours. Closed Christmas. Admission, valid for 7 days, $25 (per private vehicle with more than one occupant); $20 (per motorcycle); $15 (per person if only one occupant in the vehicle); free (ages 0-15). Phone (575) 479-6124, ext. 236.

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White Sands National Park, NM

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