words + photos by Jean Kepler Ross
They say one picture is worth a thousand words. I believe being there is worth a thousand pictures.
For several years, I edited a travel guide about New Mexico and saw many photos of the gorgeous white sand dunes in southern New Mexico known as White Sands. Each photo illustrated the beauty of the dunes - sensuous mounds of sand, blooming yuccas, delicate lavender wild flowers, kids jumping off the dunes into space...it all intrigued me. I traveled in that area a few times but never had a chance to actually visit White Sands until a few weeks ago.
I was visiting a good friend who lives just out of La Luz, near Alamogordo. We watched sunsets from the west-facing portal of her house and, through a notch between mountains, looked out at White Sands in the distance...it beckoned me. I remembered all the photos I had seen and I knew it was the right time to go.
We visited White Sands National Monument late one morning. The monument is part of the worldʼs largest gypsum dune field - 275 square miles in all; about 40% lies within the monument and the rest is home to White Sands Missile Range. Some of the dunes are active and move to the northeast about thirty feet each year, while others move very little. Gypsum is clear and translucent, but scratches on the grains cause light to reflect in a way that makes them appear white.