White Sands

White Sands National Monument is spectacular.  It lies at the bottom of a valley with no outlet.  All drainage ends up in a small lake, and when the lake dries, gypsum crystals blow off it and form enormous white dunes.  The gypsum sand is fine and soft; it can pack fairly firmly, so it's easier to walk in than beach sand, except near the leading edges of dunes where the sand is still loose.

There aren't many formal trails in the national monument  The two nature trails through the dunes (one a boardwalk, for wheelchair access) are well worth exploring, and the handouts and signs are interesting.  At the north end of the road, there's a longer trail, the Alkalai Flat Trail.  We only did about 1/3 of the trail, out to the first view of the alkalai flat, but it was well worth it.  For one thing, the dunes, ripples, playas, and plant pillars are spectactular.  But even aside from the scenery, it's an eerie experience walking in such an expanse of white.  I experienced partial snow-blindness, and wished I'd brought much darker sunglasses.  Once we turned around and headed back, it got more difficult: a cloud covered the sun, all the shadows went away, and suddenly we were in a featureless white room, like something out of a 1970's science fiction movie.  It was difficult to see topographical features at all, like whether we were about to step off the edge of a dune.  (This isn't as dangerous as it sounds; the dune edges look steep from a distance but aren't really, and sliding down the face of a dune is fun and harmless.)  A few of the pictures might begin to convey the feeling, but it's much more impressive being there.  If you get a chance, go!
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[ White Sands Panorama ]

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