Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 28 2011
White Sands National Monument  
Visitor center
Today we visited the White Sands National Monument, which is about 20 miles from the City of Alamogordo,NM. We had seen great big sand dunes before, in Yuma and in Blanca,CO, but the dunes here in New Mexico are of a special order. The area is about 100 x 40 miles big. Where is all that white Sand coming from and what is it really?
First, the sand comes by means of wind from the San Andreas Mountains. It can fly as long as there is a certain wind speed around 27mph. This white stuff, which looks like snow is of  heavy weight. It is also cool to the touch. And why is that? Well, this sand is not a silicate sand as elsewhere, but gypsum. Gypsum contracts humidity and is able to build pretty hard surfaces. The ability of holding onto water makes it possible for plants to grow in the sand. 

Up to 60ft high...

Sand Dunes can swallow everything...

Yet the plants can survive
High Five for Molly
Whenever the wind picks up, (and today it did!) the dunes are starting to move. When they move they do so without showing consideration to plants or ANYTHING in their way. They just swallow everything. So what about the plants? Well, looks like the plants out here have smartened up. As soon as the level of sand round their stem is increasing, they start to gear up their growth. And yes, the Yucca, f.ex. is able to grow through an entire 60ft. high sand dune. 

But the dunes keep moving, right?  So one day the sand dune is gone and the plant is standing.....on a pedestal of sand. That is often the time of death, as these pedestals will fall over one day and the plant will die.  

In the middle of all this sand we also saw the top crowns of cottonwood trees. Buried 2/3 of their length, but they are still alive and will just continue to do so even after the sand dunes are gone.
We went to the dunes twice today. First we were heading out there early i the morning, then later to see the sunset at 7.20pm. Both trips yielded plenty of impressions and photos. The visitor center is an attraction too in its beautiful Spanish adobe style.

The San Andreas Mountains in the distance


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