|White Sands National Monument, view from top of a dune|
The gypsum sand will stay cool to the touch, however, so if you choose, as many do, to instead buy a round plastic sled at the gift store and spend a day sledding in sand, you'll likely have more fun.
A few days ago, I spent the day wandering in the mid-afternoon blaze and then returned, post-hydrating, for the cooler sunset ranger walk to hear more about the gorgeous, alien landscape.
|Toppled yucca plant|
|The beginning of sunset. Part of a sumac pedestal |
to the right.
The sumac adapted by holding onto the dune as it moves through, creating rock-like pedestals of roots and sand that serve as condo homes for the many creatures that burrow into it. During monsoon season, the sumac pedestals become islands, with prey and predator seeking higher ground during the floods.
Don't let the sand fool you. Dig anywhere in the park, and you will find water, lots of it, underneath. The cottonwood trees grow by the largest caches, something the coyotes figured out when they moved into the area. They dig for their water by those trees, creating nice attractive pools to lure prey.
The kangaroo rat will not be lounging by those pools; they are so adapted to the desert that they do not drink water. They get all the moisture they need from the food they eat.
|Long shadows in waves of sand.|
It is the sand itself, the quantity and quality of it, that leaves you stunned though. High winds periodically remove all the footprints, sweep the house clean. Some sandstorms are so massive they can be seen from space. Delicate gypsum, softer than a human fingernail, breaks down into the softest sand, providing a canvas for creatures to decorate as they amble or scurry, from the crazy circling prints of the darkling beetles (aka stink bugs), the waggling feet of lizards, to the barefoot tromping of groups following a ranger.
Just watch out for missiles. Periodically, White Sands National Monument is closed to the public when the missile range next door runs drills. No matter how fast your sled ride careens down a dune, you're unlikely to outpace an errant missile.
|Sand and footprints in hot midday sun.|