Hiking quickly through the white gypsum of White Sands National Monument, I keep a close eye on the eastern sky. Sunrise if near and I have yet to find “my spot” to shoot images of the sand dunes at dawn. My goal is to get out beyond the other photographers and have a clear view as well as no footprints in the sand.
Grabbing a cup of coffee and my gear I started my drive from Las Cruces New Mexico to Monument entrance at 6am. Arriving at the locked gate, I am the second car in line to get in when they opened at 7am. Driving 5.5 miles to a parking lot, I decided to go light on gear so I can move quickly through the dunes. Just the camera, one lens, a tripod and my ever present Loop for viewing images on the back screen of the camera clearly.
The dunes seem to go on forever into the distance in all direction. You could get lost out here if it wasn’t for the mountains. They are on the east and west side of the valley and help orient you in the repeating patterns of sand.
Great Mammoths once roamed here. Footprints are occasionally found exposed. A moment in time preserved until the weather finally erodes it away forever. This morning the wind is calm, the sky is clear and the sand firm under my feet. It is much easier to walk in than the sand of Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley.
The sun is almost up. I stop and setup my first shot. Time is now moving quickly. I am too. The window of time where the light is just right, creating deep shadows and showing the texture of the landscape, is short. I work on lines, curves, close up textures and finally shots of the Soaptree Yucca that grow out of the sand. Some are submerged in it as if being swallowed by a great beast.
In less than an hour it is all over. The sun is too high. The drama of the first light is gone. I hike back to the car. Driving out of the park I am flagged down by two photographers walking the road. They had gone the wrong way and asked if I had seen a group of photographers and their vehicles. Yes, just 200 yards farther. They seem relieved.
I am fascinated with sand dunes. These seemingly desolate yet ever changing landscapes keep calling me back. There is life out there. The dunes themselves change and morph into new shapes constantly. The footprints of the photographers will be washed away by the wind. No trace will be left that I or they were ever there.