There Is No “Sand” In White Sands National Monument

Last week I posted pictures from our trip to Carlsbad Caverns and, thanks to a push by WordPress, that blog article has become by far my most popular to date.  Thank you, WordPress, and a big thank you to everyone who dropped by to take a look not only at that article, but others I’ve posted as well.

Today, we’ll continue looking at other highlights from that road trip.

Before reaching Carlsbad we passed through Salt Flat, site of the infamous San Elizario Salt War.  After Salt Flat we traveled into the Guadalupe National Park and motored by El Capitan, the eighth tallest peak in Texas.  Both Salt Flat and El Capitan are pictured below.

After our trek underground through the Caverns the next day, we drove over the through the Lincoln National Forest, the quaint town of  Cloudcroft, and into Alamogordo, where we spent the night.  Just to give you an idea of the vast differences in terrain and climate in New Mexico, our car registered a temperature of 102° Fahrenheit  (39° Celsius) when we passed through Artesia, yet it was only 68° F (20° C) by the time we hit Cloudcroft less than two hours later.

The reason for this is the differences in elevation.  Artesia is at 3,380 feet (1,030 meters) above sea level while Cloudcroft resides at a lofty 8,600 feet (2,621 meters).  By the time we descended into Alamogordo the temperature was back to around 96° F (36° C) and we were at an elevation of 4,336 feet (1,322 meters).  That’s a pretty impressive swing for less than three hours of driving.

We were less than two hours drive from home with plenty of daylight remaining, but there’s a reason we chose to stop in Alamogordo.  It’s called the White Sands National Monument, and it is home to one of the largest naturally occurring deposits of gypsum “sand” in the world.  All told, these huge gypsum dunes cover an amazing 275 square miles (710 km²).

Photographing White Sands presents much the same problem as we covered in photographing snow.  But exposure compensation isn’t the only problem, especially if the sun is high in the sky.  Because of the intense white and bright sun, shadows get washed out and the landscape becomes featureless even if the exposure is properly compensated.  So, while I generally avoid shooting in raw, this subject really cries out of it.

Camera settings for most of these shots included +1 on the exposure compensation, an ISO set to 100, and white balance manually set to sun.  Post processing then involved tweaking the tonal curves to bring out details in the gypsum dunes.  Oddly enough, on many of these shots that meant bringing down the brightness slightly from the +1 used when the shot was taken, but it worked.

Shots of the grandson and Ursula riding down the dunes were done in JPEG because raw fills up the camera’s buffer far too fast to capture all the action.  This unfortunately limited me to what I could do later in post-processing, but the results aren’t bad, I think.  At any rate, I’ll let you decide how successful those shots were.


Filed under Photography, travel

3 responses to “There Is No “Sand” In White Sands National Monument

  1. Tracy

    LOVE the pictures! Thanks for sharing, beautiful!