Saturday, June 27, 2015

POTM...*: White Sands National Monument

(*Photo[s] of the Month)

Gail and I have just completed a wonderful season of ministry among some dear new friends at a church in southern New Mexico. Working alongside the leaders and families of Sonoma Springs Covenant Church of Las Cruces will always be a life highlight for us, and we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to have shared this season with them.

Heading into this ministry experience last year, church life we knew. What we had no knowledge of was the uniqueness of New Mexico. The beauty of the state is an incredible thing but a well-kept secret, likely not a place many of you outside Colorado or Texas have visited. We were not only stunned by the loveliness of its high deserts and high mountains, and by the unique habitats formed by such things as bosques, remote canyon springs and sky islands; but we were also mesmerized by New Mexico’s geology, agriculture and human culture, and by the ways all of the above impact the area’s convergence of diverse histories, among them, archaeological and ancient puebloan histories, native American histories, and the histories of Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Civil War of the United States, the American west, and the more recent Atomic and Space Ages. I don’t know that I have ever been surrounded by a more diverse conglomeration of habitats and histories.

Of course, while there we did as much hiking as spare time allowed, even encountered our first rattlesnakes and tarantulas while doing so! (We had actually been surprised never to have seen them before, what with all the traipsing we do.) But since our love for the people we worked with there and our delight with the state will not fade, I thought it timely once again to focus my photo(s) of the month on one of New Mexico’s less-known natural lovelies, one of our favorites, White Sands National Monument. Just northeast of Las Cruces, it was established in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover to protect a unique landform created through a coincidental cooperation of wind, precipitation, topography and geology. Not really ‘sand’ in the technical sense (which is made up of quartz-based silica and rock particles), these dunes are made of gypsum particles, a soft, water-soluble sulfate mineral, the main component of plaster and chalkboard chalk.

The dunes form in this way. Area precipitation is impounded in what is called the Tularosa Basin, a 6,500 square mile bowl surrounded by mountains, with no riversheds or outlets to drain it. Dissolved gypsum from the mountains flows with water into the basin, and as that water evaporates or sinks, gypsum selenite crystals are formed on the desert floor. These in turn crumble, and crumbs are picked up by prevailing winds and deposited on the dune field. Now, if it’s water-soluble, I’m not sure why the whole thing doesn’t just melt when it rains, so I’ll have to keep studying that! Suffice it to know, in regards to comfort, that these picturesque white sands remain fairly cool to the feet in the hot sun compared to regular sand, and, in regards to beauty, are especially good at picking up apparently blue shadows in the morning and evening as the sun is low in the sky. It all makes for a fantastical sort of environment to enjoy – hiking, dune running and jumping, unique moonlight concerts, even year-round sledding! And by the way, White Sands National Monument is the largest gypsum dune field in the world, 275 square miles in size.

I love dunes. It not only brings me back to my church youth group days as a teen, and our many trips to sand dune beach parks near Chicago on Lake Michigan. It also reminds me of God’s heart toward you and me expressed by David the Psalmist: “How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, 
                                         they would outnumber the grains of sand…” (Psalm 139:17-18)

~~ RGM, June 25 2015

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