The third day of the Bosque safari brought us to White Sands National Monument about 35 miles east of Las Cruces, New Mexico at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. My idea of White Sands, before I got there, was something similar to Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley National Park. But White Sands is far larger at 275 square miles, with the unique white sand being supplied by gypsum. In fact, White Sands is the worlds largest gypsum dune field, and never stops changing as the dunes march relentlessly driven by strong southwest winds.
When you shoot a new location you begin a learning curve of information about it. This place is about dunes and dune life and I learned about the many types of dunes that occur at the monument: Dome (mounds that can move 30 feet a year), Barchan (crescent shaped dunes formed by strong wind with little sand), Transverse (Barchan dunes joined together in long ridges), and Parabolic (plant colonies anchor the arms of Barchan dunes to invert their shape).
Soapstone Yuccas are one of the dominant flora species in the monument, growing tall with their seed pods to survive the drifting dunes. At this time of the year the pods had all cracked open, but many still had numerous black seeds within them. The main beneficiaries of the seeds, the wildlife, are few and far between here. Kit foxes, cottontails, coyotes, cactus wrens, kangaroo rats, and others inhabit the dunes. One interesting wild animal that we didn’t see was the Oryx, an African antelope that the state of New Mexico introduced in the White Sands Missile Range that has spread into the park.
I was certainly surprised by the true white color of the dunes. I shifted my bracketing to begin with +.5 eV compensation and noticed that the lighter bracketed images were the ones I kept. Much like shooting on snow, the white sands fooled the camera’s meter into thinking there was more light than there was – thus creating darker images. Though I used a polarizing filter for some images – I wasn’t impressed with how it handled the horizon-to-horizon skyline.
I was down on my knees a great deal of the time so the gardener’s knee pads came in handy. In some places the sand had a hard crust to it and made photography pretty easy, but in other locations the sand was extremely soft and made stabilizing the tripod legs more of a job. Having tripod legs that extend out horizontally is a must when doing macro work or wide-angle work from a low position. The wind wasn’t a factor in the photography so blowing sand wasn’t a problem – though it could be on a windy day.
Small animal tracks were everywhere, but especially on the margins of the dunes and sagebrush. We saw evidence of digging in the dunes by a rabbit or kit fox, and spent much of our time photographing the yuccas and other flora as they survived the dunes. From now on this will be part of my 3 day Bosque photo safari.