As mentioned in my first post about our visit to White Sand National Monument (in the evening), there is no way to photograph the dunes for sunrise unless you camp there – the place is closed over night. We spent the night in a nice motel in nearby Alamogordo, and after one of too many “continental” motel breakfasts, we were out early enough for some subtle and angled morning light.
It was a little bit hazy at first but as the morning proceeded, the few clouds in the sky thinned and eventually dissipated. The dunes changed their colors accordingly, from a slightly creme-tone white to a bright, almost blinding white, gypsum crystals sparkling and glistening in the sun. All bright scenes and subjects mislead the camera’s meter of course and lead to underexposed images, but here it was quite extreme: I dialed in plus two stops of exposure compensation to get properly exposed, bright images of the place. I don’t think this has ever been necessary anywhere else I photographed.
Shuwen stayed behind, the boot on her fractured ankle a bit of a hindrance, while I hiked into the dunes, initially following one of the established routes that is marked with stakes in the dunes. I recorded my progress with the GaiaGPS app on my phone, veered off the route and followed where my curiosity and interest would take me, allowing myself to get lost – knowing that I’d be able to retrace my steps, and find my way back with the GPS track on the fully charged phone, with an extra battery pack as a safety in my backpack.
In between the dunes, there are always vegetation “islands” – grasses, yuccas, hardy shrubs – and in my photos, I mostly tried to avoid them, looking for the clean, minimal, pristine look of just the white dunes, their astonishing shapes, curves and appearance. It is such an unbelievable and otherworldly place – and it’s planet Earth. What a miracle. I hope my photos are able to capture and transport some of that to you.
On small-screen devices like phones or tablets, you can just scroll down. On larger screens, you may also click on any image to open it in the slideshow gallery view. For the best effect, I suggest switching your browser to fullscreen mode then. This is usually done by pressing the F11 key (and again, or ESC, to switch back).
By the time we felt like we had thoroughly explored our possibilities it was close to noon – we stopped at the visitor center and sat down in the shade to eat the lunch that we had brought (our road trip Müsli once again). Then it was time to leave and head north-east to Alamogordo again, and from there more or less straight east, to the town of Artesia, an hour north of Carlsbad and the famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which we wanted to visit the next day.
To get there we took route 82 via Cloudcroft, passing through Lincoln National Forest – a high elevation (2644 m/8676 ft) summer escape with plenty of campgrounds. It seemed to be a little bit like a New Mexico version of Julian or Idyllwild, a bit bigger though. As we drove up the landscape gradually turned greener, shrubs and trees appeared. We stopped to take a peek at the Mexican Canyon Railroad Trestle, just half a mile before reaching Cloudcroft, and learned a bit about the railroad history in the area – the town of Cloudcroft owes its existence to this railroad.
Past Cloudcroft, “it’s all downhill” (well, more or less) and the landscape looked quite pretty: forested with open valleys and farms, running streams… early March was just not the right time of the year, it all seemed to lay pretty dormant. Vegetation got more sparse again as we lost elevation until we reached Artesia, at 1030 m/3380 ft.
Artesia itself is named for an Artesian aquifer – that has long been sucked dry, of course. It is also known for Abo Elementary School, the only underground elementary school – sounds weird, but it also served as a fallout shelter! We chose the town because accommodations were much more affordable than in Carlsbad itself, and the appeal of the two towns didn’t seem to differ too much. Shuwen found us a quite nice restaurant (Adobe Rose) in Artesia, where we had a hearty and delicious dinner (with enormous portions) that really hit the spot in the very cold and dry weather. :-)