White Sands National Monument: History and Happenings

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. E'Lysia Wray
  • 49 WG/PA
"This is a wonderful place, a peaceful environment to refill the spirit," said Becky Burghart, chief of interpretation at the White Sands National Monument.

Burghart has worked as a National Park Ranger for the past 14 years and has worked at the White Sands National Monument for the past five years.

"I kind of fell into this business," said Burghart as she smiled to herself.

She started off with a position as a seasonal park ranger 14 years ago. Burghart said that she pursued a career as a park ranger after falling in love with the job.

Her overall job as the chief of interpretation is to educate the general public and enhance the appreciation of the history of National Monuments.

"We also want to reach out to the students. We want to get into the classrooms, share this amazing resource with the students in Alamogordo, on Holloman Air Force Base, and on White Sands Missile Range, and really get the classrooms out here to White Sands National Monument. Through that the students can learn about their backyard and encourage their families to come out and recreate out here as well," said Burghart.

The White Sands National Monument is the world largest gypsum dunefield. It is approximately 224 square miles and rises up to the height of a three story building. The dunefield has about 4.5 billion tons of gypsum sand and can be seen from space.

The dunefield itself is about 7,000 to 10,000 years old, but didn't become a National Monument until January of 1933 by a presidential proclamation from Herbert Hoover.

The White Sands National Monument is home to more than 300 plants, 250 birds, 50 mammals, 30 reptiles, seven amphibians, and one fish species. There are also white animal species that include three reptiles, three mammals, one amphibian and numerous insects that can be found at the monument.

Burghart stated that The White Sands National Monument offers many events and programs that really help those looking for something to do or provides a place to get away for a while.

"We're really just trying to find a variety of ways that appeal to a broad base of folks, to come out here and we have family based programs, adult leaning programs, and children leaning programs. Really we try to offer something for everybody out here."

Some of the events and programs offered are:

Sunset Strolls are one-hour walks accompanied by a ranger and are offered daily one hour before sunset. The hike is approximately one mile long.

Sunrise Photography is an early morning program that teaches amateur sunrise photography with a ranger.

Lake Lucero Tours are hikes, accompanied by a ranger, to the source of the sands and learn about the dunefield. Hikes are held November through April, normally the last Saturday or Sunday of the month. Reservations are required and accepted in advance.

Patio Talks are a free, 20 minute ranger guided program. This program is offered daily at 1:30 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends the rest of the year.

Skins and Skulls is a free, interactive presentation where a ranger delves into the lives of the animal life that call White Sands home. This program is offered daily at 3 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends the rest of the year.

Full Moon Hikes are offered once a month and accompanied by a ranger. Reservations are required and accepted two weeks in advance.

Full Moon Bike Rides are leisure bike rides through the dunefield. Reservations are required and accepted one month in advance.

Full Moon Nights is an event held monthly, during the spring and summer months, where the public is invited to listen to music, learn about the monument, and enjoy the beauty of the moonlit dunes.

The White Sands National Monument offers a Step into the Past program where they provide different events every other month normally on the first Saturday, throughout the year. Events include the Mexican Arts and Craft Show and Demonstrations and American Indian Artist Craft Show and Demonstration held this past July and August.

"These programs are to highlight the human history of the Tularosa Basin," said Burghart. "People have lived here for 10,000 years and they have left this amazing legacy, and we are sharing that with the Step into the Past program."

Other Step into the Past programs offered are:

Historic Southwest Architecture Tour is a one-hour historical architecture tour, accompanied by a park ranger, where information about the architecture and history of the Visitor Center complex at White Sands is discussed.

Journey Through Time at Lake Lucero is a hike where a park ranger and live history actors take journey through the human habitation in the Tularosa Basin. Reservations are required and accepted one month prior.

A Salty Tale: History of Salt Mining in the Tularosa Basin is a one-hour presentation guided by a park ranger about how and why the Spanish mined salt in this area, local salt wars, and the importance of slat in the human civilization.

Fire on the Dunes: How Humans Shaped the Gypsum Dunes is a presentation on the history of mineral extraction from the gypsum dunes, Lake Lucero, and adjacent Alkali Flat as well as a short demonstration of the impact fire has on this unique environment.

All events are covered by monument entrance fees. Full Moon Hikes, Full Moon Bike Rides, and Journey Through Time at Lake Lucero have additional program fees. For reservations and registration, go to www.nps.gov/whsa.

"We work closely with White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base, and as different as our missions may seem, we're here to preserve and protect. We really share similar values because we are preserving and protecting those American values that our soldiers and airmen are out fighting for everyday," said Burghart.