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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Great White Sand Dunes National Monument

White Sand Dunes - tricks to photograph

     Six hundred and twenty six miles south of Fort Collins, there's a place like no other place that I've photographed. The pristine white dunes of gypsum sand have covered about two hundred and seventy five miles of desert and when we arrived at White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico last week to take pictures, we were blown away, sometimes quite literally.
      After a long drive, we arrived at Alamogordo about six in the evening.  Forty mph gusts were stirring up waves of dust for as far as you could see (which wasn't very far) and it looked like brewing thunderstorms on every horizon. Wayne and I decided to sit tight, check into a motel and grab some dinner rather than head out to the dunes for an evening sunset that didn't look very promising.  Although the monument's website said it opened at 8am, I thought it would be good to get there at sun up for some stunning sunrise images.  The alarm was set for 5:30 and the next morning dawned clear and windless.  Off to the dunes, but unlike the other parks I visit, this one locked the front gate.  There we sat for an hour and a half imagining how good another few winks of shut eye  would have felt.  It had rained violently during the night, and the dunes were pock marked with tiny craters that made for interesting pictures. The sky was a deep cerulean blue and the snow white gypsum painted a fairyland of waves against it.  In low lying areas, and occasionally on the dunes themselves, Soap-tree yucca plants grew and when photographed against the starkness of the environment made for incredible, artistic compositions. 
     Being the last of March, you wouldn't think that a desert could be so dry, especially with a hard rain the night before.  About 10 in the morning a light breeze began to stir from the west and the dunes began drying out.  The temperature eventually rose to seventy, but the wind steadily increased until gusts reached 40mph once again. We'd walk across the sand  and within a few minutes our tracks disappeared. I couldn't drink water fast enough and my lips, well let's just say Candi wouldn't have wanted to kiss them.  The place was incredibly hostile, but it was more beautiful than beautiful.  Every few steps seemed to create a new canvas and during the day I shot more than a 1000 images.   My photo hints  for a place like White Sands are to make sure you use a circular polarizing filter for contrast and let the waves in the dunes lead you into the picture.  Try to use interesting patterns of clouds to break up the expanse of sky and look for single plants trying to eke out a living as contrast to a never ending expanse of white.  Empty your hiking boots often, drink lots of water, use sunscreen and visit during the spring or fall when temperatures aren't too severe.  Click

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