Destination List > White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park

Photo by NPS Natural Resources

The history...

White Sands National Park is completely surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range. The park covers 145,762 acres in the Tularosa Basin, including the southern 41% of a 275 sq mi field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. This gypsum dunefield is the largest of its kind on Earth, with a depth of about 30 feet (9.1 m) and dunes as tall as 60 feet (18 m).

Approximately 12,000 years ago, the land within the Tularosa Basin featured large lakes, streams, grasslands, and Ice Age mammals. As the climate warmed, rain and snowmelt dissolved gypsum from the surrounding mountains and carried it into the basin. Further warming and drying caused the lakes to evaporate and form selenite crystals. Strong winds then broke up crystals and transported them eastward. A similar process continues to produce gypsum sand today.

Thousands of species of animal inhabit the park, a large portion of which are invertebrates. Several animal species feature a white or off-white coloration. At least 45 species are endemic, living only in this park, with 40 of them being moth species. The Tularosa Basin has also seen a number of human inhabitants, from Paleo-Indians 12,000 years ago to modern farmers, ranchers, and miners.

White Sands National Park was originally designated White Sands National Monument on January 18, 1933 by President Herbert Hoover; it was redesignated as a national park by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019.

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