Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten, Portrait

Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten

My White Sands

White Sands National Monument NPS Entrance Sign Located in the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico is one of the great, natural wonders of the world, a glistening sea of graceful white gypsum sand dunes- At its heart is the White Sands National Monument. Parabolic dunes are shaped like inverted Barchan dunes. Their movement has been slowed by vegetation, and they typically advance only a few feet a year.
Rolling dunes of sparkling white gypsum sand cover 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. Below the dunes is an almost flat desert, which was once an ancient lake bed. It is "like no place else on earth."  Dunes move as strong winds bounce grains of sand up and over the crest where they pile up. When the leeward slope reaches 34 degrees, gravity takes over, and causes small landslides, as shown here.
The San Andres Mountains form the western edge of the basin in which White Sands lies. In the south are the Organ Mountains, north are the Oscuas, and east are the Sacramentos Scattered across the Tularosa Basin are small patches of the flat desert floor. Roots here can reach the water table below. In these interdune areas, most desert life exists at White Sands.
Class "S" shaped dune Graceful S-Shaped Barchan Dunes are fast-moving and high, and overwhelm everything in their path. As with Transverse Dunes, nothing grows fast enough to out race Barchan Dunes. Sand here is white is because, as the wind blows grains along, they bump and scratch each other. The scratches change the way light reflects, and makes them look white.
Transverse Dunes move several feet a year, and overrun everything in their course. Nothing lives on top. They move too rapidly for even the fast-growing yucca or rosemary mint to keep up. Footprints and Time. When the wind reaches 17 mph, ripples form in the sand. The wind bounces sand grains in furrow-like lines that run the way the wind is blowing, like fingers in the sand.
As dunes move, they sometimes leave bare patches of the underlying desert floor. These Interdune flats are where most living things at White Sands exist, until they are engulfed by new dunes. ws_9270m.htm Play time at White Sands -- A popular activity is sledding down dunes. Disc sleds can be rented for the day at the Visitors Center. Some people bring their own sleds, and kids of all ages use cardboard boxes.
In this harsh and forbidding environment, the will to live is extraordinary. With only 8 inches of rain a year,  60 plant species, 44 mammals, 26 reptiles, and 100 insects have found a way to endure. Ranger Guided Nature Hikes are popular, Elizabeth's group is returning at sunset to their gathering point at the Sunset Stroll turn off. Notice the sand has been plowed from the road to give space for parking.
Soaptree yuccas have adapted well, and are widely scattered across the marginal dunes. As the dunes bury them, they extended their stems upward to keep their leaves above the sand. Sunsets on eastern foot hills and  on Sacramento Mountains
Pedestals are formed by tangled roots of  sumacs trapping grains of sand. Seasonal rain water is baked from the gypsum sand. The result is a cement-like base that anchors it in place. Yucca in the Day's Afterglow - Sunset on San Andres Mountains