This property is a unit of the National Park System that includes more than 58,000 hectares (143,733 acres) at the northern end of the Chihuahuan desert. It was established to protect vast dunes of gypsum sand that have engulfed more than 176,000 acres--along with the plants and animals that have adjusted to this changed environment.
White Sands National Monument is the world's largest and best protected surface deposit of gypsum sand, unlike the far more abundant lake and seashore quartz sand dunes. Elsewhere in the world, most large gypsum-sand deposits have been heavily mined. Despite the current aridity of White Sands, which evolved over eons, it is biologically rich and diverse, with endemic species of animals, which afford exceptional opportunities for scientific research into evolution. The geology is an analog to that of Mars.
Being somewhat inhospitable to widespread human settlement, the key features of White Sands have been little affected by agriculture, grazing, and military use, except for the increasing presence of mesquite, which has caused limited erosion.
There are no gypsum deserts on the World Heritage List. Of the five desert sites inscribed, all exhibit dune formation, but the variety of dune features at White Sands is likely distinctive and wider than the other sites.