New Mexico: Things in the Sand

2019 February 17

One of the thing that struck us about New Mexico was the way that skeletons don’t disappear the way they do in Michigan. We are used to anything that dies being scarfed up immediately, with whatever remains after the scavengers finish being rapidly washed away by the rain or broken up by plant roots. But in the desert, once the food value has been extracted the bones are just left to bleach away in the sun.

For example, one of the first things we found while walking in the open area near Dale’s house was this skull, completely free of flesh. It appears to be a rabbit skull. I suppose that whatever ate it just didn’t want the head for some reason.


Next, here is the exoskeleton of a dead millipede. It had been hollowed out, but the shell has essentially zero nutritional value, and so it was left behind. I don’t think it was white before it died, but it is sure bleached now.


This is way bigger than Michigan millipedes, which at their largest are only an inch or two long and about the diameter of a pencil lead. Unrolled, I bet this one would have been four or five inches long. I expect that it probably looked like these when it was alive. While I’m not sure that it was Orthoporus ornatus, that sure does look like a likely candidate.

And then, when we were up at White Sands National Monument[1], Sandy found what looked like little eggs. The weird thing was that they seemed to be made of gypsum, not normal eggshell material.


Which makes me wonder, were they really eggs? Or were they some odd gypsum concretion that just looked like eggs, but were actually formed by some non-biological process? At any rate, if they are eggs then I expect they are from some sort of lizard.

There were also these odd tubes of gypsum, that looked like they may have accreted around soumething that later vanished:


I highly recommend a visit to White Sands, it is a delightfully weird place.

Of course, the other place to find bones is in the local museums. These next ones are from the Las Cruces Museum of Nature and Science. It isn’t huge, but it is nicely arranged, has interesting exibits, and connects with the art museum next door. Here’s a rattlesnake skeleton:


A small dinosaur skeleton, along with a reconstruction of what it might have looked like:


And a replica tyrannosaurus skull, because what self-respecting natural science museum doesn’t have a big dinosaur skull?


There’s also a big slab of petrified wood hanging on the wall next to Sam. I’ll have more to say about petrified wood in a later posting.

[1] White Sands is a peculiar place. The sand is all gypsum particles (hydrated calcium sulfate), and is about the color and texture of granular snow. The visitor center had a video on how the sand dunes form. It seems that there is a lake that, during the brief periods of rain, collects water from the whole region. The local rocks consist of gypsum-cemented sedimentary rocks, and since gypsum is mildly soluble in water, the lake ends up saturated in gypsum. Then, between rains, the lake dries up, and the gypsum grows up from the lake bottom as little crystals. The wind then snaps off these crystals, forming the sand dunes. Eventually the gypsum sand blows away, but it is continuously replenished by the new sand from the lake bed.

Playing in the sand is a lot like playing in the snow, but without getting cold and wet. Rosie made sand angels, for example:


This was supposed to be a nice picture of Sam and Rosie relaxing in the soft sand. I don’t know why the shoe (circled) was flying through the air at the time, but well, there it is.


2 Responses
  1. Lyle Laylin permalink
    March 3, 2019

    I don’t know about the other items but your long tube looks much like a fulgerite.
    Which is lightening fused sand, except I’m not sure that would work in gypsum.

  2. March 6, 2019

    Nothing decays out here in the SW desert, or at least it takes forever. That’s why the damage done to the environment by tens of thousands of illegals marching about each year is so severe. The trash doesn’t decay because there’s practically no rain to encourage rot. The plants that get trampled or smashed or burned for fuel take a long time to recover. It’s a mess.

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