White Sands, NM

By Vicki Uthe

In September I had the opportunity to trip lead a photo workshop with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops to White Sands National Monument outside of Alamogordo, NM. We flew into El Paso from Phoenix, stayed the night, collected our participants the next morning and drove the 90 minutes to Alamogordo. We had the opportunity to shoot three sunrises and three sunsets with class and critique time during the day. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip. It’s about a six hour drive from Phoenix ,or almost eight from where I live in Flagstaff, AZ.
Alamogordo hosts a two day hot air balloon festival each September and we try to coordinate this trip with that festival. It was a bust this year as they couldn’t take off in the sands due to high winds. It was beautiful and unique nonetheless.
This was our initial hike into the dunes. We passed this sign, much like you would see at Grand Canyon,  warning people to take enough water and emergency supplies should you get lost. White sand in all directions can become very disorienting.
What initially struck me the most was how much the sand looked like snow. They actually have sand plows that push the sand like a snow plow would to clear the roads.
At first glance the only life one sees are these yuccas. They are beautiful but what you don’t see is the ten foot trunk hidden in the sand dune. The top we see is the plant trying to stay above the sand for sun exposure to do its photosynthesis thing.
I was intrigued by the seed pods at the tops of these plants. I put my fingers in one and took out a few seeds but felt many more. I snapped one off and poured it out and was amazed at how many seeds came out of it.
Shooting at night is not my favorite thing but I was pleased at how this one turned out. We had arrived at the park early, before sunrise, and had some time to shoot in moonlight. Clearly a tripod is needed.  It’s best to shoot with a wide lens, wide open, high ISO and experiment with how long. It will depend of if you want star trails or not.
Shadows are always fun to shoot, especially early or late when they are long.
This is one of my favorites. I love the simplicity of it. I just happened to be walking in the area between the dunes and looked up. The lines and blue sky struck me so I SHOT it!
The white sands are a great place to play with black and white since color isn’t always the highlight. It can be more about shadows, textures and lines.
I say that and then shoot this one with just a splash of color. This is our esteemed photographer, Suzanne Mathia, trudging through the sands in search of students to check in on. I like putting people in such images to show a sense of scale.
Sunsets are best if you have clouds. We were blessed on this day.
A rainbow!! Can you see it?
I found this to be a random image. I think it is a Cottonwood leaf, but there were no trees to be seen.
Life in the desert is always hard to find as most animals come out at night when temps are more reasonable. These black beetles were everywhere. In the mornings I found them mostly on these white flowers.
Walking along one day I happened to look down and see this bright orange moth. The contrast was cool.
Here’s another colorful bug of some sort. So odd to see them just out there in the middle a sand dune, not even near plants.
I also found this guy, but he was deceased.
Our attempt to shoot the launching of hot air balloons in the white sands was a bust due to winds. But winds gave me other opportunities to shoot…like this kite.
These flags were flying at the balloon festival. At first I thought the one on the right was a fancy New Mexico flag…until I realized it was a bacon and eggs New Mexico flag. Ha!
Back lit flags are always cool. I love the bright colors.
So that, in a nutshell, was my four-day workshop at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. I hope it inspires you with ideas for places you visit on your travels.
Happy Shooting!
Vicki Uthe is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes