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Know the West

White Sands National … Park?

A bill could establish New Mexico’s second national park within a missile range.



White Sands National Monument, in south-central New Mexico, lies within the Army’s 3,150-square-mile White Sands Missile Range, and the road into the 225-square-mile monument, established in 1933, is sometimes closed by weapons testing. Despite the military maneuvers, the area’s desert grasses, shrubs and cacti support abundant wildlife, including pronghorn, desert bighorn sheep and exotic oryx. Petroglyphs and other ancient relics abound (“Accidental wilderness,” HCN, 5/24/10).



Now, the monument could become New Mexico’s second national park. In early May, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., introduced legislation to create White Sands National Park, with wide bipartisan and local support. The bill would protect military usage in the area through existing agreements and complete a land exchange with the Army begun in the 1970s to simplify management and protect cultural resources. In late April, the monument made headlines when scientists discovered fossilized Pleistocene-era footprints — perhaps the first-ever tracks that show early humans hunting, in this case, a giant ground sloth.