Tag Archives: sand dunes

Solar Observatory and White Sands National Monument

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We woke to a beautiful day, the winds had all died down.  However, I could barely walk because my muscles were so sore from our caving adventures.  I managed to hobble to the car and we headed up into the mountains to the National Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak.

It was pretty quiet on a Sunday morning but we did take the self guided tour.  It was interesting to see the equipment used to map the sunspots (the town all the scientists live in is Sunspot, NM, by the way), monitor solar winds and the sun’s corona, etc.  This location is one of only a handful worldwide that keeps track of solar weather.  It was built in the 1950’s. Some of the pictures I took are here.

We found a really fun local bar and grill for lunch. We figured it was good because it was so crowded we had to park about a block away along the edge of the highway.  I hobbled in.  They were playing twangy Christain music and everyone was dressed up, probably just coming from church.  I loved it.  The food was great, too.   One thing about food in New Mexico, EVERYTHING has chilis or peppers in some form.  Even for a simple hamburger or eggs, you have to request “no peppers” when you order.  I never get to eat food like that because Bob can’t eat peppers.  While he struggled a bit on this trip, I got to really enjoy food I normally wouldn’t.

Next, we headed to White Sands National Monument.  The picture above is of some picnic tables there.  It is an area of NM where the winds blow gypsum down from the mountains, which is pulverized on the way.  By the time it arrives at the bottom, it is as fine and white as talcum powder.  There is just enough moisture there to anchor the sand, so it doesn’t blow away.  Over about 10,000 years, quite a bit of the white sand has accumulated over about 250 miles.  It is so distinct from the surrounding areas that it is visible from space.  It blows around in huge dunes that move a couple inches a day in some places.

It was really strange to see great white dunes that looked like snow, but there were people sunbathing everywhere.  To make it more visually confusing, people were also sledding down the dunes.  In fact, the visitors center rents disc sleds for that purpose.  Also, instead of evergreens, the sand was punctuated here and there with cactus and yuccas.  It was amazing and lots of fun.  We didn’t do any sledding, but we did walk over the dunes.  The sand was hard packed enough that it was like walking on sand at the waterline of a beach.

If you’re ever in the Southwest, add White Sands to the list of things you must do. It’s a unique and interesting place. What’s more, it’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth making a detour to see.  Take your kids, you’ll all love it!  See all our pictures here.

Solar Observatory and White Sands Photos

National Solar Observatory

There wasn’t much going on during our visit, it was a Sunday morning, after all. But the buildings were impressive and they let us into a couple of them.  The cool part of this visit is saying that we were there.  Also, some of the views along the way were wonderful.  It was also freezing cold!


One of the observatories.


Another observatory.


Bob at one of the overlooks along the road up the mountain. The Observatory is at the top. See White Sands in the distance?


Another view of White Sands in the distance.

White Sands National Monument

What a fun place!  It was definitely one of my favorites.  If you ever have a chance, take your kids there.  It is worth a day of your time to expore this amazing natural wonder.  For those who love biology, the native species have evolved to live on the white sand in record time, less than 10,000 years.  Its quite the wonder.



About the sands. Another interesting fact is how fast the dessert creatures adapted. Spiders, lizards, and other dessert animals have lost their pigment and blend in with the sand, and it all happened over just a few thousand years of evolution. That’s pretty quick.


Sled marks on the dunes.


It’s a fine powder. It doesn’t stick or get in your shoes.


It’s a very beautiful place.


Bob at the beginning of the boardwalk trail.


Bob along the boardwalk over the dunes.


The scenery was very beautiful. I wish the pictures did it justice.


Little dessert plants living in the sands



Our car in a sea of white.



View from the top of one of the dunes.


A family of sledders. Notice they’re in shorts. It was a beautiful day.


Many people were sunbathing. It was so strange to see all that white and then see people running around in shorts and swim suits. In my brain, white means snow, so it took a bit to adjust.


One of the picnic tables.


I think they’re designed to protect picnickers from the wind.


One of the dunes. It was a reasonably calm day, so the wind wasn’t a problem for us.



More of the scenery.


The sleds at the visitor center that were available for rent.