White Sands National Monument in south–central New Mexico is unique in many ways, but, by far, the most striking difference from the surrounding landscape is the sand from which the monument gets its name. It is actually gypsum that has washed down from the nearby San Andres Mountains. The gypsum, mixed with water flows on to a large playa (seasonal lake). As the water evaporates, the gypsum sand is left behind, and is then carried by the wind to become part of the dune field.
The White Sands dune field covers approximately 275 square miles of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. A little over half of it is part of White Sands Missle Range; the remainder (approx. 115 square miles) comprises the monument. It is an amazing place where the vegetation, and the wildlife cling to life by the most tenuous of threads.
In the summer, daytime temperatures can reach over 100° F., and in the winter, they can plunge to below freezing. If you plan to visit, be sure to come prepared for any kind of weather, and carry plenty of water.
No matter what time of year you visit White Sands, you will be treated to an amazing landscape, and the opportunity to find solitude in the dunes.
Sunset at White Sands National Monument. A lone yucca silhouetted against the darkening sky with the San Andres Mountains in the background. This is the last image I made on my last trip to White Sands. Soon afterward, the light was gone, and I began the walk back to my car.
The white sand that makes up the dunes is actually gypsum crystals that are left when gypsum is eroded from the nearby San Andres Mountains. Over millions of years the dunes have grown into a moving ecosystem–the more active dunes can advance more than 30 feet per year! Plant and animal life must be able to adapt to this movement or perish.
Equipment: Nikon D200, Nikon 17–35 mm f 2.8 zoom lens, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f 20, 1/25th sec., ISO 250
Processing: Contrast, clarity, vibrance, and saturation adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, curves adjustment, and RAW conversion in Photoshop.
Another one from my archives. This photo was made while I was visiting my daughter Susan in Las Cruces. The clouds looked as though they were crawling over the Organ Mountains. I drove out into the desert East of town until I found a good spot, and set up my camera and tripod, and made six exposures.
I also made a landscape (horizontal) version.
I’m still trying to decide which one I like best. Any thoughts?
Equipment: Nikon D200, Nikkor 17–35 mm zoom lens, circular polarizer, Bogen tripod
Camera settings: f13, 1/125th sec., ISO 400
Processing: Contrast, clarity, vibrance, and saturation adjustments in Lightroom, Levels adjustments in Photoshop.
White Sands Sunset
This is the last image I made at White Sands on my last trip. The sun was barely above the horizon, and the soft golden light enveloped me in a wave of anticipation. The low angle of the setting sun gave the ripples on the dune a palpable texture.
I think this image does a good job of communicating the fickle nature of the dunes, and the uncertain fate of the life that exists there. One yucca is partially covered by the advancing dune, and another is completely buried except for the dead stalk of it’s blossoms. The exaggerated ripples across the face of the sand suggests the constant movement that is the essence of the dunes.