Looking at another picture of people surrounded on all sides by an endless stretch of pillowy-looking white sand without any water in sight, many would guess that they were seeing some foreign desert in a faraway land. But these dunes are just in the heart of southern New Mexico, where many unsuspecting individuals have been taken by surprise and left with their jaws on the floor before they realized what they were seeing: white sand stretching in every direction for a mind-boggling 275 square miles. That’s made the White Sands National Monument a long-time favorite spot among road-trippers and photographers. But there’s been nothing protecting this natural treasure from whatever the future might bring.
Until now, that is! On Dec. 20, 2019, a bill was signed to preserve this landmark, changing its name from White Sands National Monument to White Sands National Park – and changing its status as well. The beautiful site is now the 62nd official national park in the United States, joining the ranks of other legendary places like the Grand Canyon and Zion Mountains.
But it’s more than just its stunning and unique landscape making White Sands worthy of national recognition. The park hold’s the world’s largest gypsum dune field – a common rock material that reflects light, helping the dunes dazzle the way that they do. The rock field formed close to 10,000 years ago, and ever since then, the winds have blown across them creating their dreamy, wave-like appearance that we see today. Today, people can even rent plastic sleds and slide down the dunes, or enjoy a picnic lunch in their soft embrace. And by nighttime, in the light of a full moon, it’s even more beautiful; moon hikes can be booked with the park rangers.
Around 500,000 people visit the monument each year already, but that number can definitely be expected to go up now that its earned its shiny new status on the list of national parks.