Snow white and mysteriously beautiful, New Mexico’s White Sands National Park is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, with huge, wave-like dunes that constantly roll across some 275 square miles of desert in the Tularosa Basin. These pristine waves affect me more than any other place in this world. Here I am in awe of the dune’s ever-changing natural beauty. I like the notion of the blowing wind shifting the sands into different for-mations, as this reflects my own life. Not much ever remains the same for me over time, and I look forward to change.
White Sands touches deep within my soul, often serving as a healer—a place of solace, if you will. When life becomes hectic, the pure silence of the dunes provides calm, allowing my mind and spirit to become centered once again. There are no distractions, and what sometimes appears impossible in other surroundings reveals itself to be the opposite.
This is where I retreated to make some sort of sense of my father’s sudden passing at an all-too-young age, and where, saying goodbye one last time, I was able to let go. Only me, the dunes, and unfiltered thoughts of a man who worked so hard to give me so much. Too, after being diagnosed with a virus that will never leave my body, it was the white sands I kicked, pounded, yelled at, then cried over from fear and disappointment. And it was among the graceful dunes that my partner of twenty-four years and I reconnected, strengthening our relationship well beyond words.
Yes, I’ve spent countless hours hiking White Sands as far as possible, seen more than a million stars overhead, watched the sand illuminate under the full moon, and have had the good fortune to view the area from overhead, hanging out of a small plane. The dunes of White Sands have a personal hold on me. I may go in with a heavy heart from time to time, but I always leave knowing I am not running from anything; instead I am running to- ward the day with eyes wide open. For this, I will be forever grateful.
Gypsum sand is rare, because gypsum is usually dissolved by rain and carried out to sea. But the deposits of gypsum washed down from the San Andres and Sacramento Mountains that ring the Tularosa Basin are trapped there, for the basin has no outlet to the sea. When shallow pools left by the rain evaporate, they leave on the surface a layer of gypsum in a crystalline form called selenite, which forms in crystals that can be well over a foot long. Whipped by constantly blowing winds and exposed to extreme temperature changes, the crystals are eventually pounded into a fine-grained sand that gathers in brilliant white drifts moving across the desert floor. Because the terrain is in constant motion, only a few plants and animals survive here, adapting to the changing conditions in unique ways.