Closures and Missile Tests
Upcoming Missile Tests: From time to time the missile range that surrounds us performs missile testing that may require the closure of the park or Highway 70. Please follow the link below for up to date information on closures More »
New Monument Hours
The monument currently opens at 8 a.m. and closes roughly 1 hour after sunset. More »
A Short History of White Sands National Monument
Formal recognition for the uniqueness of the white sands of southern New Mexico came on January 18, 1933, when President Herbert Hoover, acting under the authority of the "Antiquities Act of 1906", proclaimed and established a White Sands National Monument. The monument story, however, can be traced to the waning years of the 19th century and is linked to the nationwide growth of the "national park" idea that followed the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
The year 1876 marked the grand centennial for the United States, and the young nation was smarting from the lack of a "cultural heritage" to equal the European standard. Unable to match the traditional measures of art, architecture, or literature, American nationalists seized upon the grand scenic vistas, particularly found in the American West, as a source of national pride. As the century neared its close, these "treasures" were increasingly included in national parks.
The economic benefits to be derived from park status were not lost on early promoters either. Parks brought visitors who would require a variety of services that translated into businesses and jobs. Following the Yellowstone Act, other park proposals proliferated as politicians sought a similar resource for their districts. Southern New Mexico is no exception. As early as 1898, a Sacramento Mountains National Park was suggested, but when organizers learned that their desire for a hunting preserve did not fit with the national park mission the, thrust changed and the area became part of the Lincoln Forest Preserve in 1902.
The next national park notion surfaced in 1912 in the form of a bill sponsored by newly appointed Senator A. B. Fall. His suggestion for a Mescalero National Park did not receive much support but it kept the idea alive. By 1921, Mr. Fall had moved on to the position of Secretary of the Interior, and he came up with the most ambitious park plan to date. The idea was to form an "All-Weather National Park" from a variety of public and private lands including a part of the Mescalero Indian Reservation, the Malpais lava flow near Carrizozo, all of the white sands dunefield, White Mountain, Elephant Butte Reservoir, and Lake B.M. Hall. This idea managed to offend almost everybody and the plan quickly faded, but it did focus attention on the dunefield that was judged the one component with real potential for park status.
That potential coincided with the dream of a determined group of local promoters that had long sought to attract some kind of development to the Alamogordo area in order to capitalize on the dunes. Many proposals had been submitted regarding commercial development of the gypsum found in the dunes, but none had come to fruition. Seizing on the park idea, Tom Charles, one of the leaders of the boosters, suggested that "gypsum may be divided into two classes - Commercial and Inspirational. The former everybody has, but as for recreational gypsum, we have it all. No place else in the world do you find these alabaster dunes with the beauty and splendor of the Great White Sands".
Mr. Charles' enthusiasm for the project was contagious and his perceptions about the value of the dunes also proved accurate. Interest in some sort of national recognition for the resource grew throughout the latter part of the 1920s. Studies were conducted by the National Park Service who determined that while the dunes might not meet the criteria for National Park status, which required a variety of resource values, the setting was ideal for preservation as a national monument. With the full backing of the New Mexico congressional delegation, as well as the support of communities from El Paso to Roswell, success was achieved in the waning hours of the Hoover administration.
In some ways the timing was fortuitous, for the establishment of the monument coincided with the dark days of the Depression and the economic recovery programs of the Roosevelt administration. WPA funds were used to improve many park areas and White Sands benefited by achieving a full measure of development within just a few years of opening. Construction projects included the visitor center/administrative building, maintenance facilities, public restrooms, and park residences. All of these buildings are still in service.
Interest in the monument, as evidenced by visitation numbers, is proof positive of the clear vision shown by the early park boosters. In its first year the area attracted 12,000 people. By 1948 the number increased to more than 100,000 per year. 1957 marked the first year that visitation topped 300,000, and by 1965 more than 500,000 people were coming to the park each year. In four different years total visitation has exceeded 600,000, the last time as recently as 1986.
Today, and for the future, the park staff faces the challenge of meeting the increased demand for services that the ever- increasing visitation requires, while at the same time insuring the protection of the resources for which the Monument was established. Over the months ahead, the park will be revising its management documents in an attempt to come to grips with this "preservation vs. use" dichotomy. Public input will be an important part of this process, particularly on the role of the park in the local economy. The park will also be examining its role as a laboratory for desert research and the potential for new programs in desert ecology. It will also be looking for new ways to provide for visitor interaction with the desert resources. Further information on this process, and the occasions for public involvement will be forthcoming and local residents are urged to take advantage of these opportunities to help set future directions for this unique and very special place.
Did You Know?
Only the top few inches of the gypsum dunes are made of loose sand. Rainwater falling on the dunes dissolves some of the gypsum and cements the sand grains together, creating a crude form of plaster of Paris. This makes the white sand dunes easy to walk on.