Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features White Sands National Park, which is located in the heart of the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico.
The park is known for its dramatic landscapes of rare white gypsum sand dunes. Unlike quartz-based sand deserts, gypsum does not absorb heat from the sun, so you can walk barefoot on the dunes even under the scorching sun.
“The dunes appear bright white in the otherwise reddish-brown landscape. The light color is due to gypsum that was deposited in ancient Lake Otero, a water body that existed in the area when the climate was cooler and wetter,” explains NASA.
“The gypsum originated from the nearby San Andres Mountains and first began washing into the basin close to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. Today, the site is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.”
New gypsum deposits are added to the White Sands as water from the surrounding mountains drains into the dunes. According to NASA, wind processes have eroded and shaped the dunes over the years to reach about 60 feet tall.
The park offers several recreational activities including hiking, backcountry camping, sledding on the sand dunes, and guided tours. There are also a variety of plants and animals that have adapted to this unique environment, including several species that are endemic to the park.
The photograph was captured by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on December 26, 2022.
Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory