BY ANNELIESE MOLL
For the UAS Whalesong
Over winter break I had an amazing opportunity to visit several National Parks in Southern New Mexico: White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This was my first trip to anywhere like this. The desert is a fascinating place especially after spending most of your time in a rainforest.
White Sands was first on our list of places to go. The park consists of a 275 square mile gypsum dunefield. The gypsum is what makes this park what is it because gypsum is not typically found in this form and in the quantity that you can see at White Sands. For hundreds of years people have been going to White Sands, some in search of salt, gypsum, as well as a few other resources. More recently, the area around the Park is used for Military research and technological development.
When you enter the park the visitor center is small, but packed with great information. If you didn’t bring a plastic sled (disks work the best) then this is also your chance to get one before going into the main part of the park. Be prepared to get sand everywhere. Also be sure to bring enough water because once you get into the park there are just sand dunes.
Carlsbad Caverns begins with a 750 ft. descent. Once you begin the natural light disappears relatively quickly and you walk along a very dim trail. There are some interesting structures in the beginning, but the deeper you go the more amazing the structures. Carlsbad became a National Monument in 1923 and became a National Park in 1930. The Cavern consists of one of over 119 limestone caves which were once a reef around 250 million years ago. The largest chamber in the cave is called the Big Room, which is around 4,000 ft. long and 625 ft. wide. During the summer the event that Carlsbad Caverns is probably most known for are bats exiting the cave at dusk. Within the cave there are 17 species of bats who all emerge in a dense group, it takes about three hours for all of them to exit the cave. However, the majority are out within 30 minutes.
If you ever have the chance to visit either of these places, I would definitely recommend them. There are some interesting hiking trails in White Sands as well as dune sledding, which is as cool as it sounds!