One of my favorite photography locations in New Mexico is White Sands National Monument, located in the south central part of the state, 16 miles southeast of Alamogordo (and about 250 miles from where I live). On July 1 I went with a friend to photograph the dunefield and the rising full moon.
The dunes are not sand, but rather crystals of gypsum left from the evaporation of an inland sea that rose and fell multiple times over millions of years.
Gypsum is rarely found as sand because it is soluble in water. The dunefields of White Sands, however, are in a basin that has no outlet for water. Water containing dissolved gypsum from nearby mountains flows in, then evaporates and leaves the gypsum crystals. Eventually the crystals break down into sand-size particles light enough to be moved by the wind.
Some of the dunes move as much as 30 feet a year, so to keep the park roads open, the Park Service uses snow removal equipment such as road graders and front-end loaders.
Plants and animals have adapted to the desert environment. The soaptree yucca (below) can grow upward a foot a year to keep its leaves above the sand.
Animals such as rabbits, lizards, and beetles leave tracks on the dunes.
We humans leave tracks, too:
We tromped around photographing the dunes in the late afternoon when the low angle of the sun creates shadows that accentuate the ripples in the dunes . . .
. . . then set up for moonrise, along with lots of other people:
And then, through the haze at the horizon, it began . . .
The park stayed open later than usual due to a "full moon concert" event, so we were able to shoot a lot of moonlit scenes.
Venus and Jupiter in the western sky . . .
. . . the lights of Alamogordo in the northeast . . .
And beautiful moonlit sand dunes:
The next morning, we hit the park when it opened at 7:00a -- fully an hour after sunrise, but worth an hour of shooting. The light was very soft due to high thin clouds in the east. Most interesting were the iconic White Sands picnic table and shelter units:
Finally, a black-and-white vision:
If you would like to see these and additional images of White Sands National Monument in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.