Geology

Selenite crystal pedestals near Lake Lucero.

NPS Photo

 
A curious white line on the horizon, White Sands has long sparked wonder in people passing through the Tularosa Basin. Standing on top of a dune overlooking this brilliant sea of sand, it can be difficult to imagine where it all came from. To understand the origins of the world's largest gypsum dunefield, we must look back over millions of years during which just the right geologic and climatic processes took place in just the right order. Many of these processes continue today, allowing us to witness the formation of these unusual sands.
 
White sand dunes with standing water.

NPS Photo

Geology of a Gypsum Dunefield
A curious white line on the horizon, White Sands has long sparked wonder in people passing through the Tularosa Basin. Standing on top of a dune overlooking this sea of sand, it can be difficult to imagine where all the brilliant white sand came from. Learn more about the source and the formation of the world's largest gypsum dunefield.
 
White sand with ripples and blue sky with some clouds.

NPS Photo

Overview of the Geology of White Sands National Monument
This in-depth essay takes you on a geologic journey that started 250 million years ago and continues to present day. This essay explains in detail how the basin formed and what processes led to the development of the dunefield.
 
Aerial image of the white sand dunes.

NPS Photo

Geology of Sand Dunes
Have you ever wondered what makes a sand dune? Or thought about the nature of sand itself? This essay explains in detail how sand and dunes form and move.
 
White sand dunes with mountains in the background.

NPS Photo

Interesting Facts About the World's Largest Gypsum Dunefield
Is there a question about White Sands that you've always wanted to know the answer to? This selection of interesting facts about the world's largest gypsum dunefield contains all sorts of fascinating facts about the size of the dunefield, the flora and fauna, and cultural history.
 
Selenite Crystals with mountains and a sunset on the background.

NPS Photo

Little Known Facts About Gypsum
Have you ever wondered what is gypsum or why it's called "gypsum?" This handout lists some interesting but not well-known facts about gypsum.
 
Dunes and sand ripples.

NPS Photo

White Sands Geologic Time Compressed to One Year
This timeline can be used to better comprehend geologic time in reference to the formation of the dunefield, which began to form 10,000 years ago. This may sound like the dunes are extremely old, but in the larger scheme of things they are actually incredibly new. For more detailed information on the formation of the dunefield, take a look at our geology brochure and geologic essay.
 
Researchers at Lake Lucero.

NPS Photo

Physical Resources Foundation Report
The National Park Service, Natural Resource Program Center publishes a range of reports that address natural resource topics of interest and applicability to a broad audience in the National Park Service and others in natural resource management, including scientists, conservation and environmental constituencies, and the public.
 
Selenite Crystals on Lake Lucero

NPS Photo

A Voyage From Crystals to Dunes
The journey of the gypsum sand dunes begins with gypsum rock high up in the surrounding mountains. Snow and rain dissolve the gypsum. This gypsum-laden water makes its way to Lake Lucero, the lowest point in the Tularosa Basin. When the water evaporates the gypsum reforms as selenite crystal. The softness of these crystals enables them to be broken down easily by the wind into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes sand. Follow the link to learn more about the sands' amazing journey.
 
Selenite Crystal in a Ranger’s hand.

NPS Photo

Crystal Formation by Microorganisms in Dunes Soils at White Sands National Monument
Beneath your feet as you walk across the gypsum dunes and soils of White Sands National Monument is an ecosystem of roots and millions and millions of microorganisms that live in the pore spaces between sand grains. This invisible ecosystem is as complex as any rainforest on Earth. Learn more about these intricate microorganisms that live at White Sands.
 
Mars rover Curiosity on Martian sand dunes.

NASA Photo

Mars and the Monument
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to Mars? Well, as it turns out, a visit to White Sands National Monument may be just the thing to give you a good idea of what you could expect.
 
Soap Tree Yucca growing trough the dunes.

NPS Photo

Uncovering Dunes
Have you ever wondered how fast the dunes are moving? Will they always be here or will they blow away someday? Read about the strategies that scientists are using to track how the dunes change.
 
Sand Grains on a Ranger’s hand.

NPS Photo

With Sand, Size Matters
When it comes to sand, size is all that matters. That is because sand is defined as any mineral between .065 millimeters and 2 millimeters in diameter, which is about the width of a nickel. Any mineral? Now that opens up some interesting options!

Last updated: November 11, 2016

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 1086
Holloman AFB, NM 88330

Phone:

(575) 479-6124

Contact Us

Tools