White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument is the world´s largest outcropping of pure gypsum. The area is surrounded by the missile range and is about 30 miles northeast of WSMR headquarters. It lies just north U.S. Highway 70 about 15 miles west of Alamogordo, N. M., 54 miles east of Las Cruces, N. M., and slightly less than 100 miles by way of U.S. Highways 54 and 70 from El Paso, Tex.
The monument consists of approximately 176,000 acres of pure white gypsum "sand" that shifts continually from one high dune to make another. The glaring white area is almost bare of vegetation. However, many species of plants have adapted to this unusual habitat, and through the gradual extension of roots and stalks, have avoided being buried by the drifting sand. A variety of plants fringe the edge of the park where they grow in weird shapes and forms.
Found also in the 275 square-mile tract are several species of reptiles and rodents that have adapted to their strange environment by developing a bleached white protective coloration.
As the years pass the moving sand bares relics of the past. Among items brought to the surface in the past was an ancient two-wheel cart believed to be an early Spanish carreta.
This isolated area was made a national monument in 1933 and named White Sands National Monument. It was from this national monument that White Sands Missile Range took its name in 1945. In fact, only 50 percent of the white dunes are protected in the monument. The other half are on the missile range east of the Space Harbor.
Roads and Trails
U.S. Highway 85 which follows the Rio Grande from El Paso through neighboring Las Cruces and on to Santa Fe, N.M., is America´s oldest road. It follows, in part, the original Spanish Camino Real--Royal Road- connecting Mexico City, the capital of New Spain, with Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, which was settled in 1610 and is the oldest capital in the United States. The road ran north from Chihuahua City, Mexico, through the "Pass of the North," which is now the city of Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Tex.
Opened by Friar Rodriguez in 1581, Camino Real was travelled by Espejo the following year and then in 1598 Onate led his colonists over the route to Santa Fe. Eighty-two years later descendants of Onate´s colonists returned over the route in a flight for their lives when the northern pueblos revolted against Spain in 1680.
It is believed that Cabeza de Vaca, who walked from Florida to California circa 1536, passed through Mesilla, which is located three miles southwest of Las Cruces.
Some Southwest historians hold that Cabeza de Vaca´s route brought him northwest from San Angelo, Tex., along the Pecos River to a point north of Carlsbad, N.M. Then his path led north of the Guadalupe Mountains, south of the Sacramento Mountains which form the visible east boundary of White Sands Missile Range, and then west through Fort Bliss´ Orogrande Missile Range to the site that is now WSMR headquarters building. From there, the path crossed the Organ Mountains at San Augustin Pass and followed along the west side of the San Andres Mountains into Jornada del Muerto.
From Jornada del Muerto, so some historians theorize, Cabeza de Vaca crossed the Rio Grande above Socorro, N.M., and crossed the Continental Divide to what was later called "Pie Town," near the Arizona border.
The early Spanish explorers and settlers apparently preferred the area around Santa Fe. For many years, the Dona Ana area remained only a stage-stop on Camino Real between Mexico City and Santa Fe.
Access to this southwestern region from the United States was by way of the Santa Fe Road which was surveyed from Fort Osage, Mo., to Santa Fe in 1827 with funds provided by Congress. Traders and adventurers then followed Camino Real south to Chihuahua City. Possibly the first American to traverse the Santa Fe-Chihuahua City link was Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike of the U.S. Army who was taken to Chihuahua City as a prisoner of the Spaniards in 1803. (Pike was identified in Missouri as Montgomery Z., and in Colorado as Zebulon M.).
In 1846, General Kearny led Federal troops to Santa Fe over the Santa Fe Trail and annexed New Mexico bloodlessly as a territory of the United States. After the annexation, he proceeded west to California leading his main body over the Gila Trail from Santa Fe. Lieutenant Colonel Cook, in command of General Kearny´s wagon train, chose the route crossing Jornada del Muerto to Rincon, N.M., and on to Deming, thus pioneering what became the first wagon road to the West Coast. This is the general route followed today by U.S. Highways 70-80-84.