The brilliant white color of White Sands National Park comes from the mineral gypsum. Several hundred million years ago when the continents were much different than today, oceanic water rose and fell in level leaving a rich deposit of gypsum in the area. Over time, the upward thrust or mountains and widening faults of plates moved, and rainfall carried the gypsum into basins trapping it there.
Over time the basins dried leaving behind selenite crystals. Wind, erosion, and time did their job over time, breaking down the crystals into small particles of sand. Northeast winds pushed the sand creating the iconic desert dunes onto the dunefield we see today. In fact, the size of the dunefield combined with its pale color can be seen from outer space!
White Sands was designated a National Monument in 1933 by Herbert Hoover, and quite recently in 2019 was established as a National Park. Since then the park has remained incredibly popular among visitors. 34,000 people visited in the first year and today, an estimated 600,000 people visit to gaze at the rolling dunes of gorgeous white sand.
In addition to being popular with tourists, the location has been featured in numerous films and television. You may have seen the park in such films as the Transformers movies as well as 1975’s film, The Man Who Feel To Earth, with David Bowie.
One of the most popular activities one can do while visiting White Sands is sledding down the dunes. Located in the visitor center are blue plastic disc sleds that one can purchase for use. This activity is great fun for people of all ages and not to be missed! Just remember to grab a piece of wax while making your purchase as this makes the sledding experience much more enjoyable. Without the wax, the sleds tend to drag in the sand a bit and will not go as fast.
Due to the proximity to White Sands Missile Range, guests of the park are advised to check online for closures. The visitor center and gift shop still remain open during testing, however, the road into the dunefield may close for up to three hours.