“To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” - William Blake (1757 – 1827)
Our recent photography trek to White Sands National Monument (elevation 4,235 feet) exceeded my expectations. My brother, Brian Reinkensmeyer, and I were graced with excellent weather, superb lighting conditions and photo ops galore.
NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 70 mm, 1/40, ISO 100
While the winter season has shorter daylight hours, we were pleased to find that the soft light and low angle of the sun allowed us to photograph the dunes well beyond the recommended "golden hour."
NIKON D800E,f/20 @ 24 mm, 1/6, ISO 200
Located in south central New Mexico, the mountain ringed White Sands National Monument is situated in the vast Tularosa Basin. The white gypsum dunes occupy 115 square miles of a massive dunes field encompassing a total of 275 square miles. The remaining portion of the dunes and the perimeter mountain ranges (San Andres and Sacramento Mountain Ranges) are all part of the highly secure, strategic White Sands Missile Range. Just down the road is Holloman Air Force base. With this strong military presence, we noted lots of intrigue about the early years of weapons development, space technology and national security.
Our biggest challenge in photographing the dunes was working around the ubiquitous footprints left by hikers, sledders and other equally enthusiastic photographers. You can imagine our disappointment time after time, upon hiking to the summit of a dramatic convex sand formation only to find two or three sets of deep footprints. This situation was especially problematical on our arrival day, Sunday, in the aftermath of many weekend park visitors.
NIKON D800E,f/18 @ 36 mm, 1/80, ISO 100
As luck would have it, the dunes were swept clean of footprints in a fierce evening sand storm that same evening. Fortunately, having experienced these sand storms at Death Valley, we were outfitted with eye goggles, hats covering our ears and protective plastic sleeves for our cameras (Ruggard RC-P18 rain cover, available at B&H Photo). We've also found that it's helpful to wear Gaitors (Outdoor Research brand, available at REI stores) boot covers to keep the sand out of our shoes.
With or without the low visibility of a sandstorm, it’s all too easy to lose one’s sense of direction and to get lost in the ubiquitous white gypsum dunes. We find it imperative to carry two handheld Garman GPS units our hikes in the dunes, both at White Sands and Death Valley National Park (Eureka and Mesquite Flat Dunes). Navigating via GPS gives us true peace of mind, providing wayfinding ability in darkness and amidst blinding sandstorms alike.
D800E,f/20 @ 35 mm, 1/20, ISO 100
A special thanks to the highly knowledgeable White Sands rangers (Kelly, Kathy and Bob), who provided extensive information on the park and nearby areas. We could not have asked for better support, both on-site and prior to our visit. Kudos to the park service!
NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 62 mm, 1/15, ISO 100
VIDEO: White Sands, Apple iPhone 5s
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.