Natural Features & Ecosystems
White Sands National Monument, located in the Chihuahuan Desert, protects 40 percent (115 square miles) of the 275 square-mile gypsum dunefield, which is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Upon first glance, this enormous dunefield may seem barren and empty—full of nothing but shifting white sand. In reality, however, White Sands National Monument is home to a wide variety of natural features and ecosystems, including Lake Lucero and other playas, unique hydrology, and living soils.
The coldest and wettest desert in North America, the Chihuahuan Desert covers a vast area, one third larger than all of New Mexico. This desert is located in three U.S. states and five Mexican states.
Out of the expansive landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert rise two of the world’s two largest gypsum dunefields and an international partnership that strives to protect, understand, and share this collective story of intrigue, resilience, and beauty.
How can there be an oasis in a desert? You will find the answer underground. White Sands is at the bottom of an enormous basin that gathers water from the surrounding mountains. This water has nowhere to go, so it just sits a few feet beneath the dry desert surface. With summer rains, the underground water level rises. It fills in playas—places slightly lower than their surroundings.
Sandwiched between the gypsum sand dunes of White Sands National Monument and the San Andres Mountains to the west stretches a vast area known as the Alkali Flat. Lake Lucero lies in its southwest corner. Together, they make up the source of the dunes.
Air, water, and soil are the three natural resources that are vital to life on Earth. Most of us easily recognize the importance of air and water in our daily lives. Each time we take a breath or a sip of water the importance of both are apparent, but how often do we think of the soil beneath our feet as vital to our existence? Here at White Sands, our food web starts with our soil, and our ecosystem wouldn’t exist without it.
Last updated: March 2, 2016