Thursday, June 23, 2016

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument

So you made the long trek out to Las Cruces, New Mexico or to El Paso, Texas and want to come to White Sands.  Here's a guide of what you should know about planning your trip, photographing the dunes, and things to do in the dunes.

Planning your trip
The first thing to think about is how to get to White Sands.  It's about an hour drive from Las Cruces, or if you're coming from El Paso, it can be around an hour and a half.  Make sure to check on road closures however as the road can sometimes be closed due to missile tests.  I don't really know how often they do this, but I am guessing it's not very often and the signs may literally just be a relic of the Cold War.

The important things to note about planning your trip are the park has strange hours.  It isn't quite the status of a national park that is open year round 24/7.  I think the main reason it closes at night, however, is due to drifting sand, so they have to plow the roads frequently.  You may want to check weather before your trip and pay attention to the wind forecast as that could severely affect your trip out to White Sands.

White Sands National Monument

Because of this they have posted hours, but sometimes they do open the gates early, so check for this beforehand if you want to gamble and try to get there for a sunrise, but if the gates aren't open, remember this is a gamble.

Alternatively, you can always just plan to hike into a back country campsite to stay in the park, and the camps are not nearly as packed or as far in as may national parks, so this is a great option if you want to stay in the dune field.

Besides that remember to plan for hot temperatures and to bring lots of water.  Also remember to keep track of where you go in the dunes as it can be a very disorienting place, and if you get high winds, your tracks may not lead you home.  I've heard quite a few stories about photographers spending long hours in the dunes and having trouble remembering how to get back.

White Sands National Monument

Photographing the Dunes
The dunes are a photographers paradise.  They say this is one of the few places that is visible from space without any difficulty, and it truly is a unique place to go.  You'll be surprised as you drive out as the vast desert suddenly gives way to towering white dunes.  So what are the best techniques for making your photographs memorable?

White Sands National Monument

The first thing to remember is that the Dunes are going to quickly mess with the exposure compensation in your camera.  Make sure to turn up your exposure even when shooting in Raw.  The reason for this is your camera will see the huge bright scene and think it's too bright and try to drop it until your dunes turn from white to gray.

Another important tip is to get creative with your shots.  It's hard to take a bad picture in the park, so just pick some kind of photograph you want to shoot.  For me I wanted tracks, mountains, and sand.  You may pick something like a bush, or the lines of the dunes, but one important aspect of landscape photography that I have always found useful is have a goal of what you want to shoot, shoot lots of that, and shoot everything in between, and keep shooting till you get your goal shot.  If that happens early, then come up with something new, but this will keep you busy shooting and keep you from missing what you want, and also all the great photos you stumble upon in between.

Another tip is to get low or zoom in on the dunes with the mountains in the background.  The stunning difference in size really is quite marvelous and is well worth the effort.

The last thing to remember about photography in the dunes is to watch out for wind and sand.  When I went, there wasn't much by way of wind, but I've heard from other photographers that the high winds can really pick up and get sand all over your camera.  Make sure to take precautions with something as simple as a cut out plastic sack or garbage bag.  Do you best to protect your camera from the elements, and if you do get lots of sand in the camera.  One tip I've heard is to drive and hold your camera out the window, letting the air brush it off for you.  If you do this make sure that thing is held as tight as you can though.  I am in no way responsible if something happens to your camera while doing this.

Things to do in the Dunes
Probably the most prominent aspect of heading to these beautiful dunes is to catch a sunset turn the white dunes into reflective pools.  Every night the rangers do a sunset hike if you're interested in doing this.  The hike starts at 7 and runs from May to August.

White Sands National Monument

The next most popular thing to do in the Dunes is to go sledding.  You can also bring a snowboard and try that as well, but if you get to the park and find out you forgot your sliding device, you are in luck because you can buy the sleds at the park, just remember if they break to take them out with you.

Another popular activity is to go and have a picnic in the dunes.  They have lots of roadside tables to have picnics on throughout the dunes, and they're covered if you have any qualms about the hot sun beating down on you.

Another great thing to do here that is much harder to do in national parks is to camp deep in the dunes.  Not only are these short hikes to the campgrounds, but they are never as full as other national parks.  So thinking of a last second vacation and a fun place to spend it?  The dunes are a great choice of venue.

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument
The hike is so easy, this lady was using a roller bag
If you have any suggestions or would like to contribute click here to send me an email.  If you would like to sponsor my trip somewhere to showcase your business or to work with me please send me an email as well.

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