Who wouldn’t love sliding down a white sand slope under blue skies in a bright green saucer sled? Crystals of white glisten in the sun and swirl about, caught by soft breezes. I wax the bottom of my sled, perch at the top of the hill, and push off. Following tracks forged by others, I fly down the trail to the parking lot.
There, I have to watch out for cacti and spiny plants. I brush off the clinging white powder and look back up the hill, shielding my eyes from the sun reflecting off the brilliant gypsum sand of Alamogordo White Sands National Monument.
I never thought I’d go sledding on sand. Friends I met at an RV rally in Arizona urged me to add a stop at White Sands to my itinerary.
Geology of White Sands
This very unusual place made me appreciate the variety of God’s creation even more and laugh at his sense of humor. White Sands covers about 275 miles of the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. The distinctive white sand formed as a result of geographic changes over millennia. More than 200 million years ago, the Permian sea covered the area and deposited gypsum in what later became the San Andres Mountain range, the Sacramento Mountain range, and a river basin between them. Rivers and snow melt brought minerals from the surrounding areas into the basin. Eventually, the water dried up and the dry lake bed exposed selenite crystals formed from gypsum. Wind and rain broke the crystals into tiny grains of white gypsum sand.
Although the sand is water soluble, there is very little water so it accumulates into large dunes. Wind moves these dunes several feet every day, sculpting fantastic ripples and curves. Today, White Sands is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world.
Because the groundwater is close to the surface, and the sand reflects rather than absorbs the heat of the sun, the dusty grains feel surprisingly cool. This sand is much more comfortable for bare feet than the brilliant white sand of Florida beaches.
Dry air, bright sun, and the coolness of the sand lull the visitor to dehydration. Be sure to drink before you are thirsty, sipping water constantly so that you ward off headaches and can enjoy the experience. Hiking is quite different here, because the sands shift so frequently. Instead of trails, there are markers. Occasionally these become buried and must be cleared off. An accessible boardwalk trail makes it possible for everyone to experience the landscape up close.
Although the desert looks barren, in the cooler evening you may see some of the unusual animals and insects that live there. Mice, lizards, and spiders have adapted over time to blend in with the white sand.
During the day, the landscape bordering the solid white rolling dunes reveals hardy twisted shrubs and small trees with patches of grasses and cacti. These tough plants adapted to nutrient-poor alkaline soil and temperatures that range from below freezing to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Often, they look like they have legs walking across the dunes. They cling to life in the deep sandy soil and grow much taller than normal to survive the shifting dunes that can be as high as 30 feet. The shattered roots of collapsed yucca plants mark where the sand overcame their ability to cling to the moist ground beneath the surface. Meanwhile, bright yellow flowers remind me that life endures in the harshest environments.
Solitude in the Desert
All deserts make me think of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert after His baptism. It was a time of spiritual battle and temptation. Yet, the desert also was a retreat where He could prepare Himself to fulfill his mission.
The solitude and vast space of the desert encourages contemplation of our identity before God. We are small, but not forgotten. Even in the midst of what appears barren, we find great fruit. Thirst encourages appreciation of the goodness of water, both in the natural and the supernatural sense.
Before I left White Sands, I shared the joy I found there. An elderly lady and her son watched me slide into the edge of the parking lot in my waxed green saucer. She looked wistfully at my sled, and I asked if she’d like to try it. Her eyes widened and she glanced at her son, “That would be amazing!”
So, I shared the pointers I’d been given and walked up the slope with her, holding the saucer steady while she perched inside of it. She got the idea right away of lying back to go faster or sitting up to slow down. I watched her follow the soft tracks smudged into the hillside by other sleds. When I met her back down at the parking lot, she was glowing with a big smile on her face. Her son had recorded her adventure too.
We find joy in unusual places sometimes. When we do, sharing joy multiplies it. May you be blessed by finding unexpected joy in deserted places, and bless others by passing it on.
White Sands National Monument is located off Route 70 about 52 miles east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. A wealth of information is available at the website, www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm.
If you liked this post, please subscribe to my e-newsletter. And, if you’d like to become a supporter of Tin Can Pilgrim and receive advance access and cool benefits, go to https://www.patreon.com/tincanpilgrim. Thank you!