White Sands National Monument: Reflections in Gypsum

Along the Interdune boardwalk

Along the Interdune boardwalk
1/50 sec; F/18; ISO: 100; 135mm
Taken: 12/27/13 @11:32AM

Alkali Flat

Alkali Flat
1/250 sec.; f/10; 24mm; ISO: 100
Taken: 12/27/13 @3:54PM


1/100 sec; F/16; ISO-100; 116mm
Taken 12/27/13@4:12PM

Among the wonders of our natural world is the world’s largest known gypsum dune field: White Sands National Monument. Located a few kilometers west of Alamogordo, New Mexico, it has an elevation of 4235 feet, and is a 275 sq mile national park comprised of cool white gypsum sand dunes.

For obvious reasons, WSNM is on the destination bucket list of many amateur and professional photographers. It sure was on mine.  The nearest major airport is in El Paso, Texas, about 85 miles south. There is no public transportation to or through the park. Everywhere one looks there is spectacular scenery. Light shifts and reflects and bounces around the sands. It is captivating and enchanting.  In my photographs, what you see is white sand; not a spec of snow.

The Park Service explains that while the wind piles the sand grains into dunes, the dunes move forward under the force of gravity. As the leading edge of the dune (“slipface”) gets steeper, gravity pulls an avalanche of sand down the slipface, moving the dune forward. They are constantly on the move.  Wind moves small sand grains by bouncing them along the surface in a process called “saltation.” Saltating sand grains create beautiful ripple patterns on many dune surfaces.

The major issue faced when photographing this white sand is getting your exposure right. Yes, in the morning and afternoon I did use a polarizing filter on my lens. We entered the park not until 2 hours after sunrise; I was traveling with young children and we first stopped in town at the Waffle & Pancake Shoppe for a hearty breakfast; then the kids pursued Junior Ranger booklets at the visitor center after watching the informative film.  We drove in, and were blessed with a cloudless, sunny day. Great for hiking around. Less so for exciting photographs that include  sky.  I removed the filter an hour before sunset when it was no longer necessary and the softest colors were present, even as the shadows elongated.

For subject matter, one is greeted with sensitive shadows and textures, areas with desert plant life, animals or evidence of animals, abstractions of shape, large landscapes ideally suited for wide angles, sunrises and sunsets, visitors exploring nature and enjoying the scenery, and people demonstrating scale.

Animal Tracks

1/40 sec; F/22; ISO-100; 18mm
Taken 12/27/13 @1:51 PM


Backcountry landscape


Sledder climbing to dunetop


Two Year-old Tush
1/40sec; F/22; ISO:100; 18mm
Taken 12/27/13@2:24PM


Pattern Disruption


TEXTURE of sand


Horizontal Leading Lines


Vertical Leading Lines


The Disruptor
1/250 sec; F/10; ISO: 100; 18mm
Taken 12/27/13@4:53PM


Finding Shadows


Rolling Dunes


Horizontal Money Shot


Last Shot at Sundown


Venus of the Dunes
1/320; F/6.3; ISO:100; 135mm
Taken: 12/27/13@ 4:54PM


Velvet Sundown
1/125; F/11; ISO: 1600; 135mm
Taken 12/27/13@ 5:15PM

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