Simply White

This is a photograph of a “sand dune” in the heart of White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

I took this photo in 2011 while visiting some friends in Las Cruces, NM.  This dune was in the heart of the monument, quite a ways from the roads or parking area.  I used my GPS to navigate.

The white sand is not sand at all; it is actually gypsum deposits. The monument is in southern New Mexico in the Chihuahuan desert which extends from northern central Mexico up past El Paso, Texas into New Mexico. Over tens of thousands of years, the gypsum washed out of the surrounding mountains and eventually formed the immense “sand” deposits now known as White Sands.

This post is really not about White Sands, however. After enduring this long and hot summer here in Utah, I have been thinking about my youth, growing up in west Texas around El Paso.

The image reminds me of home in so many ways – the stark contrast between the white sand and the blue sky, the simplicity of the desert and my old stomping grounds, the beauty of the desert, and at the same time its brutal harshness.

From a photographic perspective, this image always makes me smile too. Why? Everything just came together to make this shot. The sky was just perfectly blue, with no haze. I had been hiking into the heart of the dunes looking for, well whatever I might find. And here was this perfect dune, crystal clear, with no vegetation. There wasn’t a single other soul around for miles.

(Venturing off into the heart of the dunes out of sight of the parking area is NOT to be taken lightly. There is no water that is drinkable. There is no shelter, and the summer heat coming off those white dunes is intense. And the winds continually shift the dunes around, so in a few minutes your tracks can be obliterated.)

Anyway, this image was quite a challenge, but it really got my creative juices flowing. Trying to capture the perfect exposure to keep the whites white, without blowing out the highlights was an interesting adventure. And then I worked on my composition for quite a while. I kept walking around looking at various viewpoints and just feeling what the “right” view was.

So, there you have it, one of my favorite photographs. The image reminds me of my home, and I think it represents some of my better creative and technical work. I really hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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