White Sands National Monument has unusually harsh environmental conditions, even for the desert! But that hasn't stopped animal and plant species from adapting, surviving, and even thriving here. These species have developed very specialized means of surviving in this harsh environment and play a vital role in the ecosystem. Hundreds of species of plants and animals call White Sands National Monument home.
Nature and Science
Animals and Plants
White Sands National Monument and its partners are committed to preserving our natural resources for generations to come. We can only do that with your help. We are calling for all of you to help us to sustain this amazing place for many more generations. Read more about how White Sands is "Going Green." Learn about how the fragile soil we have at White Sands is more complex than what we can see.
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 all of it 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.
Natural Features and 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, 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. Learn more about the secret ingredient that holds this marvelous place together and about our sister park.
Thousands of years ago, giant animals roamed the shores of an ancient lake that covered what is now White Sands National Monument. Columbian mammoths, giant sloths, and dire wolves stepped in the muddy banks of Lake Otero, leaving behind their footprints. Today, evidence of the path they walked is preserved in the sediments of Alkali Flat. Prints made of gypsum crystals, dolomite, and sand are visible at the surface. Some trackways even go on for two miles!
Why did the world's largest gypsum dunefield form here? What plants and animals call this strange place home? What can this landscape tell us about other worlds? Behind the scenes at White Sands, scientists are working to unravel these mysteries and more. Their research reveals a place unlike any other on earth—formed through a rare mix of geologic forces and colonized by ingeniously adapted life. And the more we learn, the more questions we can ask. What have you always wondered about the white sands?
Last updated: November 10, 2016