Two hundred and seventy-five square miles of white sand dunes, the largest gypsum sand dune field in the world. This is the White Sands National Monument just south of Alamogordo, NM. The source of the sand is the gypsum that is trapped in the rock layers of the surrounding mountains. Rain falls on the mountains and the runoff collects on the desert floor. When the water evaporates, the gypsum collects in crystal formations. Wind then takes over and tumbles the crystals until they break down into grains of sand. These are active dunes, moving thirty to forty feet per year. Surprisingly, the dunes have formed in only the past 10,000 years.
The national monument occupies a small portion of White Sands. Most of the remainder makes up the White Sands Missile Range. This has been home to the testing of many of our most significant advancements in missile and rocketry technology, including the detonation of the first nuclear weapon and a proving ground during all phases of our space program.
The New Mexico Space History Museum in Alamogordo has a nice collection of artifacts from the US space program including many displays related to the role of White Sands Missile Range. The day we were there, January 31, was the 55th anniversary of the date when HAM the chimpanzee became the first hominid to be launched into space. HAM was named for the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, located in Alamogordo, which is the lab that prepared him for his space launch. HAM’s remains are buried at the space museum at the foot of the flag poles in front of the building.
Across the street from our RV park was the McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch. New Mexico growers account for approximately 1% of the commercial pistachio market. We visited the store and took their tour and heard about the pistachio growing process. Turns out there are male and female pistachio trees, only the female trees yield pistachios. The males provide the pollination which is carried by wind, no bees required. They grow 1 male tree to every 25 female trees.
Next stop: Roswell, NM