ALMOGORDO NEW MÉXICO
WHITE SANDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
Preparation for a National ParkThe first exploration was led by a party of US Army officers in 1849. :6 :5 The Mescalero Apache were already living in the area at the time. Hispanic families started farming communities in the area at Tularosa in 1861 and at La Luz in 1863.:6
Life as a National Monument
World Heritage Site controversy
The ground in the Alkali Flat and along Lake Lucero's shore is covered with selenite crystals that reach lengths of up to three feet (1 m). Weathering and erosioneventually break the crystals into sand-size grains that are carried away by the prevailing winds from the southwest, forming white dunes. The dunes constantly change shape and slowly move downwind. Since gypsum is water-soluble, the sand that composes the dunes may dissolve and cement together after rain, forming a layer of sand that is more solid and could affect wind resistance of dunes. This resistance does not prevent dunes from quickly covering the plants in their path. Some species of plants, however, can grow fast enough to avoid being buried by the dunes.Gypsum rarely occurs as sand because it is water-soluble. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea. The Tularosa Basin has no outlet to the sea, so it traps rain that dissolves gypsum from the surrounding San Andres and Sacramento Mountains. Thus water either sinks into the ground, or forms shallow pools that subsequently dry out and leave gypsum on the surface in a crystalline form called selenite. Groundwater that flows out of the Tularosa Basin flows south into the Hueco Basin. During the last ice age, a lake now called Lake Otero covered much of the basin. When it dried out, it left a large flat area of selenite crystals that is now the Alkali Flat. Another lake, Lake Lucero, at the southwest corner of the park, is a dry lake bed, at one of the lowest points of the basin, which occasionally fills with water.