National Park Service

Chihuahuan Desert Network (CHDN)

I&M at White Sands National Monument

Dunes at White Sands National Monument
Dunes at White Sands National Monument
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Location of White Sands National Monument in the Chihuahuan Desert Network. Click for larger image.

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Monument (NM) in south-central New Mexico. About 40% of the 275 total square miles of dune fields here are located within the monument. The pure gypsum that forms these unusual dunes originates in the western portion of the monument from an ephemeral lake or playa with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates, the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually are wind-transported to form dunes. Many species of plants and animals have developed very specialized means of surviving in this area of cold winters, hot summers, with very little surface water and highly mineralized groundwater.

Typical of plants in the Chihuahuan Desert, plants in White Sands NM are drought tolerant. In addition, many of these plants must be adapted to alkaline, nutrient-poor soils with high gypsum concentrations. The monument is home to 289 plant species from 51 families. Vertebrates in White Sands NM include 1 species of fish, 38 species of reptiles and amphibians, 52 species of mammals, and 238 species of birds. Some of these species have adapted pale or light phases of coloration to better blend in with their surroundings.

CHDN monitors climate, dune dynamics, groundwater, invasive plants, landbirds, landscape dynamics, spring ecosystems and uplands vegetation and soils at White Sands NM.

Life Zone

The elevation within the monument ranges from 1,186 m (3,891 ft) at Lake Lucero to 1,254 m (4,114 ft) in the foothills of the San Andreas Mountains on the west side of the monument. Desert and semi-desert grasslands and desert scrub and woodlands life zones are present here. Average annual precipitation is approximately 20 cm (8 in ).

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Last Updated: March 21, 2017 Contact Webmaster