We all know New Mexico is full of natural splendor, and one of the most notable enchanting landmarks is White Sands National Monument.
Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world’s great natural wonders with great, wave-like dunes of gypsum sand engulfing 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this unique dunefield, along with the plants and animals that live here.
History of White Sands
Although the dunefield has been here for 7,000-10,000 years, the dunes have not always been protected as a national monument. It took thirty-five years and numerous attempts to protect this national treasure. In the early twentieth century, multiple commercial interests attempted to mine these gypsum dunes; however, none of these attempts were successful due to the low market value of unprocessed gypsum sand. In the 1920’s, locals began to understand the uniqueness of the dunes and viewed the dunefield as profitable in another way.
The area had already sparked scientific interest with the first published research occurring in scientific journals in 1870. However, the formation of White Sands National Monument took time and support from many people. The most famous supporter and local “father” of White Sands was Tom Charles, an Alamogordo resident and businessman. Mr. Charles was not the first to suggest including White Sands in the National Park system; however, he enthusiastically supported the idea and wrote to National Park Service officials and congressmen. Mr. Charles got his wish in 1933, during the last days of President Herbert Hoover’s administration, Hoover declared White Sands a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
Beginning in 1942, only months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order #9029, which created the 1,243,000 acre Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range. Following the order, soldiers were even allowed to practice tank maneuvers inside the monument’s boundary. By 1945 the military had begun to test missiles and ask for the first park closures, a practice that continues today. The Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range (Alamagordo Army Air Base) closed at the end of World War II and re-opened in 1958 as Holloman Air Force Base. The White Sands Proving Ground was established in 1945 and was later renamed White Sands Missile Range. Both military areas still operate around the park boundaries and in the cooperative use area in the western part of the park. This cooperation mutually benefits both the military by providing them additional space and the park by insuring the lack of development on the surrounding lands.
The Park Today
Throughout the monument’s history the National Park Service has improved visitor access to the dunefield, and continues to strive for this today. The historic visitor center is still in use; however, the park has updated the museum numerous times. The most recent renovation took place in the spring of 2011 and focused on creating exhibits that visitors of all ages can enjoy. From the first scheduled event, “Play Day” in 1935, the National Park Service has continued to offer programs and events that interest all ages. While these first events focused mainly on recreation in the dunes, programs today offer both recreation and information about the park. Topics range from the Tularosa Basin’s human history to desert survival and just about everything in between!
Enjoying the White Sands
When you visit White Sands National Monument, there are tons of activities to fit a variety of interests. From backcountry camping to photography to hiking to driving the dunes, there is something for everyone. Visitors can also enjoy a native plant garden tour, picnicking, ranger programs, and sledding with ample opportunities for photography buffs.
Plan Your White Sands Adventure
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