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White Sands National Monument-White Gypsum Sands and Matilda the Camel

Matilda the Camel at White Sands National Monument

Matilda the Camel and her owner take a walk over the white gypsum dunes.

Matilda the Camel and her owner take a walk over the white gypsum dunes.

Drive into a Different World at White Sands National Monument

The gypsum sand, which is composed of selenite crystals that have broken into fine sand grains, is blown by prevailing winds and forms the ever-changing white sand dunes of the White Sands National Monument. Although there is little vegetation visible, there are a few hardy species of plants which take root and can grow rapidly enough to avoid being buried by the dunes.

Visiting the White Sands National Monument is like driving into another world as the paved road leads gently into the dune area. The road is soon covered in white gypsum, with evidence that it has been plowed to clear the road of drifting sands. Here and there, low, isolated plants sprout from the sand.

White Gypsum Sands

White Sands National Monument, located near Alamagordo, New Mexico, is surrounded by White Sands Missile Range. Nearby is the Holloman Airforce Base and one of the space shuttle landing sites. Despite the military bases and activity nearby, the monument with its miles of sparkling pure white gypsum dunes is a place of quiet solitude.

The fine white gypsum powder dunes cover nearly 275 square miles, half of which are within the National Monument. The gypsum has eroded from the San Andres mountains and washed down or blown into the Tularosa basin 60 miles south.

RVing at White Sands National Monument

The 8-mile scenic drive and parking areas in the White Sands National Monument were RV friendly.

The 8-mile scenic drive and parking areas in the White Sands National Monument were RV friendly.

Pictures of White Sands National Monument

Some plants are hardy enough to survive in the gypsum dunes.

Some plants are hardy enough to survive in the gypsum dunes.


Driving the RV Through the Park

Although there is no camping within the monument, the roads are accessible to motorhomes, and we drove our RV along the 8 mile scenic drive to one of the large parking areas where we stopped to walk on the dunes and have lunch.  There are several stopping points along the road where there are interpretive signs telling about the history, terrain and wildlife in the park.  The sand is surprisingly cool, even on a warm day, and is easier to walk on than most sand.  We found out later that most sand is quartz based and absorbs heat, but gypsum crystals do not convert the sun’s energy to heat and can be safely walked on even in the hot summer months.

White Sands Missile Range, surrounding the National Monument, is an active missile testing ground. Once or twice a week both the park and the main road (U.S. Route 70) are closed while tests are being conducted.

There must not have been any testing going on the day we decided to drive into the park as we were able to enter and stay as long as we wished. We happened to be there on a Sunday, and were surprised to see families coming in with plastic toboggans that they used to slide down the dunes. It looked like so much fun that we wished we could join them!

Visiting White Sands National Monument

  • Fee - $3 per person, but entrance is free with an America the Beautiful pass.
  • There is a gift shop and visitor center at the entrance to the park. There is also a place to buy refreshments.
  • There are several very short trails with interpretive signs. For those wishing to take longer hikes into the dunes, you are required to register at the trailhead and return by sunset.
  • Accommodations and camping are available in Alamagordo, about 16 miles away.
  • Things to see in Alamagordo include the International Space Hall of Fame and the Space Theater.

Bleached Earless Lizard

The Bleached Earless Lizard is one of the species of white lizards that lives in the White Sands area.

The Bleached Earless Lizard is one of the species of white lizards that lives in the White Sands area.

Plants and Animals Adapt to Life on White Sands

While the white sand dunes look barren at first glance, there are nearly a hundred species of animals, reptiles and amphibians live in the White Sands National Monument. Many of these animals are nocturnal, so it's unlikely you will see them during a daytime visit. Over the thousands of years the white sands have been in existence, other animals have adapted their coloring to the environment.

White Sands National Monument is at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert.  Because this is a desert area, plants must be drought hardy to survive.  In addition, they must be able to survive being burried in the ever-shifting dunes and fluctuations in temperatures which range from below freezing in winter to over 100° in the summer.

Meeting Matilda

Matilda and George taking a walk at White Sands National Monument.

Matilda and George taking a walk at White Sands National Monument.

Meeting Matilda

Meeting Matilda

Meeting Matilda the Camel

We had lunch in our RV where we had a good view of the dunes and of people coming and going from the horse trailer parking area. When a large trailer turned in and began unloading its cargo, I was fascinated to see a camel being led onto the sand. Along with some others who had noticed the unusual creature, I walked over to get a better look and was introduced to Matilda the camel by her gregarious and friendly owner, George Stone.

It turned out that George and his wife Sherel are family therapists and the camel is part of their pet therapy when working with abused children. George acquired Matilda when she was one day old and about the size of a large dog. They have a very close bond, and Matilda was even a part of George and Sherel’s wedding as the bride, in her wedding finery, rode the camel to the church.

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They were at White Sands that day to bring Matilda out to play. George said that the camel loves being out in the sand, so they bring her out on weekends for some R & R. As a small crowd gathered on the dunes around George and Matilda, George told stories about the camel and encouraged people to pet her and pose for pictures. It was delightful to get close to the gentle, long-legged Matilda, but I admit I was a little appehensive when she nibbled at my fingers, obviously looking for a treat. She was very, very gentle, but did leave me with handful of camel drool.

Although the white sands are spectacular and unique in themselves, meeting George and Matilda made our visit to White Sands even more memorable. If you visit White Sands National Monument, do enjoy the Visitor Center, the Interdune Walk and the beautiful scenery.  And if you are lucky enough to be there some Sunday afternoon when George brings Matilda the Camel out to play in the dunes, do go over to say hello!

Happy Trails!

White Sands National Monument

Travel Hubs


Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 17, 2013:

Tillsontitan - The sparkling white sand was really beautiful! It actually looked more like snow than sand. But Matilda and her owner fit in so perfectly as they strolled over the dunes. It was a very special day! Thanks for stopping in to read, comment and vote!

Mary Craig from New York on September 17, 2013:

Your 'travel' hubs are always so interesting. Really, who would come up with a camel, especially one named Matilda? Your pictures are great. I'm sitting here thinking its too bad we don't have gypsum sand at the beach! Thanks for another enjoyable hub.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 16, 2013:

Teaches12345 - I hope you get to visit White Sands National Monument soon! Thanks for your comment and the share!

Dianna Mendez on September 16, 2013:

I would like to visit this place some day. White sands are always a beautiful scene. I experienced this only in San Diego years ago, wish it were common everywhere. Thanks for sharing this article.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 16, 2013:

Midget38 - White Sands National Monument is very unusual and beautiful. I hope that you are able to visit someday! If you go on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps you'll even get to see John and his camel, Matilda. :)

Michelle Liew from Singapore on September 15, 2013:

Beautiful, Stephanie, and I must take a trip there one of these days! Sharing!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 15, 2013:

PapaJohn - Thank you so much for making your wonderful video available to the public! I'm sorry but I don't have contact information for George Stone or know what their schedule is. We came upon him and Matilda by a very fortunate coincidence on a Sunday afternoon. He did say that he tries to bring her out on most Sundays in the afternoons. I hope you're able to connect with him again!

PapaJohn on September 14, 2013:

Hi Stephanie..... I did the video of George and Matilda that's embedded in your hub page. We're going to White Sands again tomorrow.... just wondering if you knew if and at what time they will be there... or an email address for George where I can check with him. Thanks

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 14, 2011:

Susie42, if you go on a Sunday afternoon, maybe you'll get a glimpse of Matilda. :)

SUSIE42 on April 14, 2011:

This is so beautiful. I will have to go there.

mauihawaii from Maui, Hawaii on April 13, 2011:

Great Hub!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 12, 2011:

Hi Peggy, Thanks for visiting and commenting! You've been to so many places around the country, too! I thought that meeting Matilda during our visit was a fortunate and fun coincidence.

Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on April 12, 2011:

I like Matilda! LOL!!! Anyways, congratulations, Ms. Steph on your win. It's comforting to see Matilda and her owner helped you relaxed. Ow, btw, I like to see closely that earless lizard. It's somewhat akin with our noisy big lizard here (usually lives on trees).

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 11, 2011:

I've also been fortunate enough to have visited White Sands National Monument and have even written about it sans Matilda. That would have made the visit extra special. Thanks for sharing. Rating this beautiful.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 11, 2011:

Blissfulwriter, thanks for stopping by and for your comment. I do love photography and enjoy sharing our travels through my hubs.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 11, 2011:

Jean, It's quite a trip from NJ to New Mexico, isn't it? We loved visiting White Sands, and,in fact, made a special detour to see it a second time on last year's trip west. I agree that the vast expanse of white drifting dunes is other-worldly. Thanks for your comments and thanks for visiting my hub!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 11, 2011:

Simone, I'm so excited about winning the Daily Drawing! Thank you so much! Now I am filled with new inspiration to continue the April Hub Challenge, too.

BlissfulWriter on April 11, 2011:

The photos are really good.

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on April 11, 2011:

I visited White Sands in the 1980's. It's so beautiful, almost like being on another planet. It was a marathon, driving trip from NJ to NM to visit friends which brought us there. We also got to see Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings, which was so cool!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 11, 2011:

And guess what Stephanie! This Hub won the Day 11 Daily Drawing in the HubPages So You Think You Can Write Online contest!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 11, 2011:

Waaaah! Matilda the Camel! How cool is that! What an awesome place to visit. Great Hub!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 11, 2011:

Hi Austinstar, I'm sure Matilda would have enjoyed meeting you, too. She seemed to have a great sense of humor. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck finding those photos.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on April 11, 2011:

I went there! Beautiful place. I'll have to do a hub myself. First I gotta find my photos.

I wish I could have met Matilda!

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