History & Culture

Did you know that this vast expanse of land known as the Tularosa Basin has attracted people for over 10,000 years? From atlatls to missiles, the glistening gypsum dunefield of White Sands has witnessed the steady advancement of human history and the people that have called this place home for thousands of years.

Even before the dunes started to form,people began migrating to the Tularosa Basin. Ancient hunters, descendants of people who crossed the Bering land bridge into North America, roamed the basin following herds of megafauna such as Columbian mammoths in order to provide sustenance for their families. Eventually, life in the basin changed during the Archaic period. With the megafauna extinct, people were relying more on seasonal plants and small game, like rabbits.

By 200 AD, the culture known as the Jornada Mogollon began erecting permanent and semi-permanent structures throughout the basin. However, like other groups in the American Southwest, they had completely vacated the area by 1350, leaving the basin devoid of human inhabitants until the arrival of the Apache about 100 years later.

After the mid-1500s, Spanish explorers came to the area in search of treasures and converts. The area remained under Spanish control until 1821 when Mexico declared its independence from Spain. After the Mexican-American War ended in 1846, Americans began to establish a ranching and farming presence in the basin which still exists today. The nearbycity of Alamogordo, Spanish for "fat cottonwood," was established in 1898 as a result of the expansion of the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad.

In 1912, New Mexico was officially declared a state, losing its territorial status. By 1933, local advocates had convinced President Herbert Hoover to declare the white sand dunes anational monument. By 1938, the Works Progress Administration had built many amenities, such as theadobe visitor center and historic district, for visitors to the dunefield. Roughly a decade later in 1942, the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range and the White Sands Proving Grounds were established in the Tularosa Basin. These military installations would later become known asHolloman Air Force BaseandWhite Sands Missile Rangerespectively.

The presence of the military brought with it both an economic and scientific boon to the local community, starting with the testing of the first atomic bomb at theTrinity Site on July 16, 1945 and leading to the cutting-edge scientific research and technological development that takes place on the two bases today.


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