There are 62 national parks throughout the United States of American. In December 2019, the USA gained a new national park. The National Park Service now has White Sands White Sands National Park as the 62nd national park.
Location of White Sands National Park: Southeastern New Mexico. The closest cities to White Sands National Park are Alamogordo and Las Cruces.
White Sands National Park used to be known as White Sands National Monument. The difference between a national park and national monument is the purpose. A national park is designated as a place because of a very distinctive land feature or natural phenomena. A national monument is designated as such based on scientific, prehistoric, or historic interest. And for a long time, White Sands National Park used to be a national monument. White Sands National Monument was designated as such in 1933. It was designated as such for scientific, scenic, and educational purposes. Surronding the area are military installations: White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.
On December 20, 2019, White Sands National Monument became White Sands National Park. This designation has included a land transfer between the park and White Sands Missile Range. More land has been added.
What are the White Sands? This is an area with some of the most unique sand dunes in the world. Most sand dunes are comprised of sand made from quartz. The White Sands are comprised of gypsum sand. The gypsum gives the sands an alabaster hue, hence the name “White Sands”. This gypsum dune field is the largest field of gypsum dunes in the world. This area used to be covered by a shallow sea. The sea is gone, replaced by desert. However, calcium sulfate deposits (gypsum) were left behind.
White Sands is located in the Tularosa Basin, a valley. This is important because of the mountains nearby. The San Andres and Sacramento Mountains formed due to tectonic lifting of the sea bed, comprised of the gypsum deposits. Rain washed away the gypsum deposits out of the mountains and into the Tularosa Basin. Being an endoheric basin, the water would drain underground or evaporate, with the gypsum sands left behind.
Something else about the gypsum sands. It doesn’t matter how hot the temperatures are in the park. The gypsum sands do not convert solar energy into heat nearly as much as sand made from quartz. Because of this, the White Sands tend to be cooler. People have been known to walk on the sands barefoot.
This park is valuable for paleontologists. Lions once lived in this region when it was markedly wetter. Fossilized footprints of ancient animals that once walked in the area can and have been found in White Sands National Park. Human beings once hunted mammoth in this region. The park has the largest collection of fossilized human footprints in the world. It really gives an insight to a time when the region was much wetter and cooler and it teemed with a larger variety of wildlife. It gives an insight to how much the Earth’s climate has changed over thousands of years.
White Sands is a national park today. Its white gypsum sands are a geographic feature that is distinctive in so many ways. It is considered an important land treasure to preserve. This is not the only reason. It is distinctive for its natural and cultural resources as well.