It was all very “Lawrence of Arabia“. There we were surrounded by dunes, rolling and curling like great white waves to infinity, shadowed only by grey-blue mountains on the horizon. In the very middle of this surrealistic scene, under blazing heat and skies too blue to express in words we walked in bare feet across the still-cool sand. Had we worn flowing robes we could easily have been mistaken for nomads in the Arabian desert. As it was, we were smack in the middle of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
White Sands is one of those special spots where time moves and stands still at the same time. Located in the heart of the massive Tularosa Basin in Southern New Mexico, here lie 275 square miles (~710 km²) of the world’s largest, living gypsum dune fields. And it really makes no sense.
Logic says this stuff shouldn’t be here. Gypsum, you see, is soluble in water and normally washes away to sea. The unique geology of the Tularosa Basin however, provides no outlet and so the minerals washed down from the surrounding mountains dry out and crystallize right here to stay. The fine white sands shift, move, cement and dissolve with the cycles of nature creating dunes that are forever alive, yet forever here.
This place is, quite literally, a freak of nature and it’s a superbly cool experience to visit.
I originally wanted to do a sunset stroll, but high winds kept the sands in movement right up until Tuesday morning where a brief, hot window opened up for the drive. We braved the sun for a 8-mile drive in the park and romp in the sand, marvelling at the plants and rare animals that are able to survive this extreme environment.
And what a great trip it was! The drive leads you into a white fairytale and a short walk into the dunes has you completely surrounded by sand and in a world of your own. Here you can lose yourself in the heavy beat of the sun, the cool feel of gypsum through your toes, and faraway dreams of Arabia. Just remember to come on back, now….