Friday mystery photo

Unlike dunes made of quartz-based sand crystals, the White Sand's gypsum does not readily convert the sun's energy into heat and thus can be walked upon safely with bare feet, even in the hottest summer months.

Pinchof 2.0, flickr

This photo was taken at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

The world's largest gypsum dunefield, White Sands National Monument features vast expanses of brilliant white sand dunes. 

The dunes' white hue is caused by an accumulation of pure gypsum, which is formed from an ephemeral lake with a very high mineral content. The lake evaporates as much as 80" annually, and leaves behind deposits that are carried by wind. Native legend of the Pavla Blanca says that the evening winds are the ghost of Mañuela, who once went in search of her Spanish conquistador lover who died here hundreds of years ago.

From the visitor center at the entrance of the park, the Dunes Drive leads 8 miles into the dunes. Four marked trails allow one to explore the dunes by foot. During the summer, there are also Ranger-guided orientation and nature walks. The park participates in the Junior Ranger Program, with various age-group-specific activities.

Photo: tamasrepus, flickr

Visitors can also enjoy full moon bike rides, music performances and other events in summer and fall. But be aware that site is occasionally closed for testing at the nearby missile range.

This unique national monument exists because past presidents and lawmakers had the foresight to protect natural, cultural and historical treasures for future generations.

The Wilderness Society is working with local communities, members of Congress and the presidential administration to see more special places protected as national monuments. 

Photo: Selenite, jlodder, flickr