Photographic Expedition to White Sands National Park

December 2021

I had been wanting to get back to White Sands National Park for quite a few years. The white gypsum sand dunes are different from anywhere else. I teamed up with my good friend and professional photographer, Jess Lee, in search of the best possible images of the Park.

Unlike other Parks, this one is not open 24/7/365 due to its proximity to the White Sands Missile Range that continues to operate a number of tests. The normal opening hour is 7 am, which is about the time of sunrise, which is too late to be in position for the pre-sunrise light and color. The good news is that you can arrange for a permit to get in an hour early, which we did, and it made all the difference.

One of the challenges at White Sands National Park is the large number of people that like to come to hike and play on the sand dunes. This results in footprints in many places covering the dunes. Of course, we wanted to photograph the dunes clean and without footprints.

We spent the first day or so scouting all areas of the Park. We needed to find areas that did not have footprints, which was not an easy task. We needed to know exactly where we wanted to come back to either late in the day or early in the morning.

December is truly the best time to be there as the sun stays lower longer than at other times of the year. One of the main things you are trying to do photographically is to capture the ripples in the sand dunes, which are highlighted by low light and shadows between them.

Using a super wide-angle lens, I was able to get down low to the sand and capture some very nice images showcasing the ripples both with and without some of the desert vegetation.

sand ripplies at white sands national park
"Ruffles" - Click on Photo to Purchase
sand ripples and yucca plant at white sands national park
"Desert Yucca" - Click on Photo to Purchase
two yucca plants and sand ripples at white sands national park
"Two on a Dune" - Click on Photo to Purchase
closeup of sand ripples at white sands national Park
"Blue Ridges" - Click on Photo to Purchase

We saw the forecast showed a pretty good windstorm was going to be coming through. This was great news. Not only was it going to clean many areas of the dunes of footprints, but we also managed to get some images of the blowing sand.

sand blowing in windstorm at white sands national park
"White Storm" - Click on Photo to Purchase
panoramic of sand dunes at white sands national park
"Windblown" - Click on Photo to Purchase

With the windstorm over, we headed out into some areas that we had previously discovered to be fairly free of footprints. They had been cleaned up pretty well. The added bonus was that the clouds were just fantastic. Their white wispy formations complemented the white gypsum sand beautifully.

plants on the sand dunes at white sands national park
"On The Dune" - Click on Photo to Purchase
sand dunes and beautiful sky at white sands national park
"Desert Sky" - Click on Photo to Purchase
various plants on sand dunes at white sands national park
"Big Desert Sky" - Click on Photo to Purchase

One of the fun things to do was to search for ridges in the sand dunes and capture both the ripples leading up to the ridge and the sharp edge of the ridge. The ridges are created by strong winds blowing the sand in certain areas. I also loved the way the ridges created shadows.

sand dune ridge at white sands national park
"Desert Snake" - Click on Photo to Purchase
late day light on sand dune ridge in white sands national park
"Late Colors" - Click on Photo to Purchase

As we hiked around the dunes, we began to see the beauty in the various plants growing in them. There were yucca plants and various other plants. Some of them took on a golden color in the early or late light. I named this one particular large yucca plant Monster Yucca. The pastel morning sky was the perfect backdrop to it and many others.

sunrise over the dunes at white sands national park
"White Sands Sunrise" - Click on Photo to Purchase
huge yucca plant at white sands national park
"Monster Yucca" - Click on Photo to Purchase
early light on the sand dunes at white sands national park
"Soft Sands" - Click on Photo to Purchase

I think I accomplished about all that I wanted to during the week we were there. The conditions were great. I could always be tempted to go back and explore some more areas. It’s hard to explain why it is such a draw to me. Maybe it is just the endless possibilities.

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