Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lines and Curves at White Sands National Monument

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I’d be willing to go with her to White Sands National Monument to see the Sand Dunes there.  I had been once before, and shot some fabulous shots of them at sunrise, the iconic strong lines of the white dunes against the blue, blue sky.  I quickly jumped at the chance.  This time, however, we were going to get there in time to shoot the Dunes at sunset.  I purposefully capitalize the words Sand Dunes when referring to White Sands because there is nothing like them anywhere else in this country and perhaps the world.  They cover almost 300 square miles, are as white as white can be and the sand is incredibly soft, unlike typical sand.  When we got there and I first looked around for some great shots, I was somewhat disappointed because I wasn’t seeing the white against blue that I had expected.  I guess one really sort of sees that at sunrise, because no matter how I turned, I couldn’t get that combo.  But, then, I began to see the layers that really popped in the lowering light approaching sunset, and rediscovered White Sands all over again!
When I looked to the west, I could see the Dunes against the San Andres Mountains.  I was struck by the layers of the Dunes and the curve the wind created.  They looked like big, lazy waves in the ocean.

I decided to focus in closer on the Dunes because they looked so other-worldly.  In this image, you can see the footprints of people who were out exploring on the Dunes.  And, yet, there’s no other sign of them!  The Dunes are so vast, people are warned to bring a compass or GPS with them as they walk out on the Dunes, as once you lose sight of your car (which doesn’t take that long), it’s easy to get turned around and end up wandering aimlessly.  Hopefully, all of these folks heeded those warnings!

I just loved all the lines in this image.  In the background, there are the lines of the mountains as they flow down to meet the Dunes.  Then, in the foreground, there is the bold line of the ridge of the Dune closest to me.  It does cut thru the image, but the line of the Dune just behind it brings your eye back into the image.  The line of the Dune in the middle of the image forms a shadow that looks somewhat like the outline of a dolphin’s head as it swims in the sea of sand!

I couldn’t figure out at first what appealed to me about this scene.  As I began to shoot it, things started to pop for me.  I liked the 3 sets of footprints setting off on the exploration into the Dunes.  They followed the line of the Dunes alongside of them, and they all seem to converge on some distant point.  It’s clear they won’t go any further in the Dunes than the mountain and the sun is casting some nice shadows on the entire scene.

This scene appealed to me because the very clear footsteps seem to spring up from nowhere and disappear before they reach the top of the Dune.  The explanation for this seeming mystery is the wind.  The wind has already erased part of someone’s footprints, which is why you can’t count on re-tracing your steps to get out of the Dunes when you explore them.  By sunrise tomorrow, all footprints will be gone, as the wind really picks up as night falls.

I love this image because it combines the vastness of the Dunes with the huge big sky we have here in New Mexico.  If you look closely, you can see a few people standing atop the Dune on the left.  I purposefully included them in this image to give a real sense of perspective about how large each of these Dunes can be!  Isn’t Nature grand?



Dune Textures

As we wandered around the Dunes, a friend commented about how cool the texture of the sand was.  I knew that the sand had cool textures, but because of that, my mind (and eye) skipped over it and became blind to it.  Thank goodness for the fresh eyes of my friend!

One of the first things we noticed was how the sun reflected off the crystals in the sand.  The sand at White Sands is made up of gypsum, not quartz.  I don’t know if it’s the white color or the gypsum, but the sun was hitting it perfectly and it looked like bunches of little diamonds were scattered in the sand!  The little flecks of white are the little “diamonds”!

I like this image because the design is so perfect and complex and man had nothing to do with it.  The deeper horizontal lines and the softer vertical lines are created by shadows from the sun, the sand and the wind.  So cool!

When I looked at this texture, it seemed to move and flow.  When I saw the photo, it wasn’t moving and flowing, so I added a bit of blur to give you the idea of what it felt like looking at it in person.  It almost made me dizzy!

When I looked up this dune, I loved the feel of the texture running all the way up to the sky.  When I was processing the shot, I liked the white of the sand and the lower clouds, but the blue sky seemed out of place somehow.  So, I converted it to a black & white image and now it looks like what my mind saw out on the Dunes.  The harsher texture and pattern of the sand is nicely offset by the soft pattern of the clouds.


Layers of Sand and Sky

In addition to Lines and Curves, I also love the natural layers that occur at White Sands.  Whether its layers of Dunes or Layers of Clouds in the sky, they were certainly there in abundance today!

Here’s a great example of what I mean! Check out the layers of the image – the Dunes have layers driven by distance between them, and also by the type of grass growing on the Dunes.  Given that the shape and structure of the Dunes changes all the time, the grasses certainly have to be very flexible about where they live!  Today, the sky gave the Dunes a run for their money in terms of the layering going on there!  You can barely see it, but the bottom layer of clouds hint at the sunset that is soon to come.

For some reason, some of the scenes today just cried out to be black and white images.  I liked the look of this scene in black and white – sort of accentuates the layers.  When I look at this image, I’m reminded of Ansel Adams.  No, I’m not comparing myself to him!  But, can you image what he could have done with White Sands if he had photographed it?

The mood of this scene is wonderful.  When I saw it thru my viewfinder, I had to capture it.  The clouds are starting to lose their color and vibrancy as evening approaches.  You can see a little sliver of sunlight in the clouds and as it touches the grasses on the Dunes below, highlighting them beautifully.  How wonderful to just “be” with this scene.


Yucca Seed Pods

I was very intrigued by these yucca pods.  I felt I really needed to capture these and so I struggled over some sand plowed sand drifts (and provided entertainment for other visitors driving by!) to get to them.  One of the plants really captured my attention…..
The first thing that I noticed was how the yucca seedpod seemed to be reaching for the Sacramento Mountains in the distance.  Then, the more I looked at that scene, the more I saw that “reaching” seemed to be the theme of this view.  You can see the shadows seem to be reaching in the same direction, but the yucca plant itself and the grasses nearby seemed to be reaching for the sky.  The mountains and dunes seem to be flowing thru the image and add a nice anchor.
If “reaching” seems to be the theme to the first image, then “merge” is the theme of this image.  As I shot it, it felt like the dunes were merging into the sky, taking on the color of the sky and just sort of flowing up to meet it.  In this image, the yucca is the anchoring point.  Funny how a change in perspective can change everything, isn’t it?



I was really attracted by the play of shadows at White Sands; particularly the shadows thrown by the grasses found growing there.
It was late afternoon and the shadows started to get long.  This image just seemed to be made to be in black and white.  I love the way the long shadows played off the texture of the sand – irregular due to the wind.
This image appealed to me – the shadow was so long, it reached beyond the shadow of the small dune the young yucca planted rested on.  It sort of seemed to jump over the dune shadow.  Plus, I love the pop of green!
Here’s another black and white image.  The starkness of the grasses and shadows sort of reminds me of an old sci-fi movie from the 1950’s!


Rosy Skies

And, finally, the sun put on the show that we came for!  We were not disappointed either.
We met a couple visiting from England.  They weren’t quite sure what to expect, but wanted to be sure to see all they could.  We left the top of the dune to seek out another vantage point for Nature’s show and when I turned back, this seemed like such a nice shot to capture – this sight had to definitely be worth the trip!
Here was a shot from a different spot. We started to drive down the road, when I saw the clouds looking so cool from the area where we’d just finished photographing, I just stopped the car, and we got out to capture this shot.  Wonderful!
We stopped just up the road a wee bit because I saw some grasses and yucca plants silhouetted against the sunset sky.  I really like this image – the 2 yuccas seem sort of like bookends, highlighting the sunset in between them!  And, the sand looks like snow, doesn’t it?  The mountains on the far right of the image are the San Adres again.
This image just feels so soothing and relaxing to me.  It’s just Nature being itself, and creating a very calm setting.  I feel like I could sit down and sink into the sand and just chill.  I sort of mean that literally – it gets pretty darn cold very quickly here once the sun goes down!
I absolutely love this shot.  It embodies what it feels like to be someplace capturing Nature’s beauty as a photographer.  We met this photographer as we were leaving the parking area and he was lugging his tripod and gear up a 30 – 40 foot Dune.  He smiled and said he just had to catch the sunset.  When we drove a bit down the road where I captured some of the above images, I turned and saw him against the sky and thought this captured what it is to be a photographer for me.