White Sands.

April 11, 2012 § Leave a comment



White Sands National Monument


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Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of desert creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.


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White Sands National Monument Sunset


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White Sands National Monument is located within the Tertiary Rio Grande Rift of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. This narrow, elongate zone of extension contains numerous basins, including the Tularosa Basin where the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument have formed from gypsiferous lake deposits. To the north, in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Monument is also located within the Rio Grande Rift. Great Sand Dunes is comprised of quartzose dunes blown eastward across the vast San Luis Basin from the Rio Grand River and piled against the Sangre De Cristo range.


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White Sands National Park SKY


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Landsat image of White Sands

Landsat image of White Sands (light blue), Lake Lucero (dark blue), and Carrizozo Malpais (black lava flow).


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White Sands lies in the Tularosa Basin. The gypsum that forms the white sands was deposited at the bottom of a shallow sea that covered the region 250 million years ago during the Permian era. Over time the gypsum-bearing marine deposits like the Yeso and San Andres formations were turned into stone. 70 million years ago mountain building took place that uplifted the Rockies and elevated the western states. This upheaval called the Laramide Orogeny caused the present Tularosa area to be uplifted into a broad arch. Around 10 million years ago the crust began to stretch apart and the Tularosa arch began to subside to form the Tularosa Basin, and the Sacramento Mountains to the east and San Andres mountains to the west were uplifted along north-south trending faults.

The Tularosa Basin is called a graben, and a “bolson” because it has no outlet for surface water. It is like a bathtub with no drain. After summer thunderstorms Lake Lucero fills with runoff from the San Andres Mountains. As the playa lake evaporates gypsum crystallizes and is deposited on the lake floor, to be picked up by the winds and carried to the dune fields.



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