White Sands National Monument is a U.S. National Monument located in the state of New Mexico on the north side of Route 70 about 16 miles (26 km) southwest of Alamogordo in western Otero County and northeastern Doña Ana County. The monument is situated at an elevation of 4,235 feet (1,291 m) in the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin and comprises the southern part of a 275 sq mi (710 km2) field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. The gypsum dune field is the largest of its kind on Earth.
The first exploration was led by a party of US Army officers in 1849. The Mescalero Apache were already living in the area at the time. Hispanic families started farming communities in the area at Tularosa in 1861 and at La Luz in 1863.
Preparation for a National Park
Creating a national park in the white sands formation goes back as far as 1898. A group in El Paso had proposed the creation of “Mescalero” National Park. Their idea was for a game hunting preserve, which conflicted with the idea of preservation held by the Department of the Interior, and their plan was not successful. In 1921-1922 Albert Bacon Fall, United States Secretary of the Interior and owner of a large ranch in Three Riversnear White Sands, promoted the idea of a national park there, an “All-Year National Park” that, unlike more northerly parks, would be usable year-round. This idea ran into a number of difficulties and did not succeed. Tom Charles, an Alamogordo insurance agent and civic booster, was influenced by Fall’s ideas. By emphasizing the economic benefits, Charles was able to mobilize enough support to have the park created.
On January 18, 1933, President Herbert Hoover created the White Sands National Monument, acting under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906.:32 The dedication and grand opening was on April 29, 1934.:102