Monday, November 12, 2012

White Sands National Monument, NM: Dunes at Dawn

White Sands, New Mexico - "Dunes at Dawn"

During part of the year, White Sands National Monument offers a naturalist tour once a month, early in the morning, called Dunes at Dawn. The guided tour follows the Dune Life Nature Trail, which is about one mile. There are informative signs all along the way.

The "dawn" part is a bit of a misnomer, depending on the time of year, but it's close enough, I guess, and it makes the title alliterative.

There's a reservation form to complete and submit in order to get a slot on the tour, which sometimes maxes out at the 40-person capacity very quickly. I submitted my reservation within minutes of the form being made available for the November hike. (Now, don't tell anyone, but here's the hack: I think you could just show up and be good to go. After all, the guided tour follows a self-guiding trail, and the registered tour participants don't get into the park any earlier than the regular 7:00 a.m. opening time. The naturalist didn't check names, either.)

My tour aperitif

I left my apartment at about 6:15; it was already pretty light out. But when I turned south onto White Sands Boulevard, I turned my head to the east, toward the mountains, and I gasped.

Alamogordo sunrise, White Sands Boulevard, New Mexico

The fiery sunrise coming over the mountaintop was explosive. I took the above photo while driving (but looking at the road, of course!), so it's a little blurry.

Here's a video I took of the sunrise:

(Note: The wind sound was irritating. I experimented with youtube's audio swap, editing in a song instead of the wind. In fact, I was listening to Cat Stevens' Moonshadow while I took the video, but this wasn't available.  Oh, and the trade-off for using youtube's music? An ad. In this case, the video's original wind noise is more intrusive than the ad.

The Dunes at Dawn tour in photos

A slide show of the Dunes at Dawn tour, in which I include some of the photos I took in 2010 on a previous road trip, and some photos on the day I arrived in Alamogordo in September:

Some tour tapas

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is at the top of the White Sands food chain, from the air. From the ground, it's the coyote.


The roadrunner is no slouch as a predator. Incredibly, when it has a taste for a sunbasking snake, the roadrunner will build an interlocked corral around the snake with cactus bits, then it will toss bits of twigs at the snake to wake it up and annoy it. When sufficiently riled, the snake will attempt to leave its cozy sunbathing spot, but impale itself on the interlocked corral. To kill the snake, the roadrunner holds it in its mouth and bangs its head repeatedly on the ground.

I don't know if I'm buying the corral-building bit, but here's a video of the headbanging technique:


The water table is very high underneath White Sands - you only have to dig down about 18 inches to get to wet sand. 

There are cottonwoods on the dunes. This time of year, their foliage is yellow. Some of them are shrub height - you think - but in fact, their trunks may be submerged in the dune 20 or 30 feet! These are thirsty trees (they often comprise the bosques in the Southwest), so they pursue the underground water.

Here's a great reader-friendly resource about the geology of White Sands: Geological Overview of White Sands National Monument.

Here's a very noisy video of some of my time on the dunes. The wind was intense.


I look forward to going on one of the daily White Sands Sunset Strolls.

By the way, per the naturalist, every last one of the oryx is gone from White Sands National Monument.



Pretraveller said...

Thanks for a lovely overview of White Sands National Monument - the sheer white colour of the sand is amazing.

Mzuri said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post - I feel lucky to be living so close to such a wonder this year.

Jen2010 said...