Friday, November 9, 2012

White Sands Trip

Today I went to the White Sands National Monument. It is a place I have always wanted to visit. I was supposed to have a friend tag along, but she bailed on me so I got to spend the seven hours in the car with my thoughts -- all three of them.

What is pretty amazing and the first thing I will talk about is the route I took. There are lots of really amazing things along the route which make great things to visit in their own right.

I took Route 2. This route took me down I-25 to San Antonio, New Mexico. San Antonio is where the Buckhorn Tavern is. The Buckhorn really does have the best green chilie cheeseburgers in the state, possibly the world. In fact you turn left at the Buckhorn to get to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is an awesome place to see hundreds of thousands of migrating water fowl like cranes and egrets and whatnot for a large part of the winter. Lastly, San Antonio is the home town of Conrad Hilton. If you think the name sounds farmiliar, it does. Conrad Hilton is the reason Paris Hilton is making sex tapes and "reality" T.V. shows instead of working at the Deny's in Socorro trying to eek out a living.

After you get through San Antonio there really isn't too much between there and Carizozo. There is a turn off for the Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Don't bother taking the turn off though because the site is on a VERY secure military instalation and it's only open to visitors twice a year. Click the link and there should be some information about that. I've been to it, it's worth seeing but not what I would call exciting.

The other thing worth checking out is the Valley of Fires Recreation Area. It's a really cool park situated in the middle of a huge basalt lava flow field. There are black rocks for miles and the recreation area has a few trails through the lava field. I gave it a drive by and really just saw a few hunters in campers. I did check out the view of the Tularosa Basin from a high point there. I didn't read the signs there about the basin, so just click the link if you're interested.

I guess there is one more fairly interesting thing before you get to Carizozo, you cross into Lincoln County. You stay in Lincoln County for a while. If you don't know, Lincoln County is where Billy the Kid raised quite a bit of hell in his day. Lincoln County is also home to Smokey Bear. Evidently a really freaked out young bear was found alive in the rubble, called "the black," of a forest fire in Lincoln County. Before you tell me I have the name wrong and it is supposed to be "Smokey the Bear" calm down. I have the name right, and it's Associated Press style, so deal.

Now I want to get to the point of the trip, White Sands.

I have always wanted to visit this place and never have. I don't know why, I suppose it's because I've seen all the cool photos of Yucca plants with white sand behind them and nice light on them. Whatever, I made it even without a buddy to keep me company.

I will also apologize right now for the obscenly dirty sensor on my camera. It's really better to spot the photos using a computer and I'm trying to get as used to using an iPad for this blog and the spotting tool on the iPad photo editing software I use is a bit tricky. I might clean the photos up in photoshop later.

Once I got there it looked pretty much like the photos. The nice thing was the temperature. It was around 50 degrees when I left Albuquerque. It was around 80 at White Sands.

I drove around the loop of the park and really didn't know what I wanted to do, other than get myself one of those cliché photos of a yucca. I chanced upon the Alkali Lake Trail and figured "what the heck at least there won't be many people on it." There weren't really that many people in the whole park, just a few families sledding on the dunes. That's right sledding. I took a quick look at the sign board with a map of the trail on it, grabbed my water and headed out.

Soon after I started I realized right away I wasn't going to get my yucca photo on this trail, for a few reasons. The sun was too high, when not behind clouds and the light was HARSH. When the sun was behind clouds the light was kind of boring, but a bit nicer for a few things, the problem with that, I soon realized, was with no objects to use as a point of refrence where there are no shadows you have zero depth perception. I prefered to have the sun hidden because the temperature was perfect when it was, but when I tried to walk away from the "trail" and check out other things I had a very difficult time trying to figure out if I was going to go down hill or up or what. Keep in mind this was for small depressions or bumps a 100-foot tall dune I could tell. Also, there were exactly zero yucca to be seen along the whole hike.

So now a little more about this "trail." I quickly realized the farther I ventured down the five-mile trail the less stuff there was. There was hardly any sign of life, or anything else for that matter. The "trail" is marked by blazes stuck in the dunes and human tracks going between them. When you're two miles out in a dune field and you forget what you're doing because you're laying on your belly photographing a weed only to stand up and not see a blaze or a landmark you want to have a little previous orienteering skills. A few times I lost the "trail" but that was okay I think a lot of people got off of it to make travel easier. The commonly traveled area was a bunch of soft churned up sand and it was difficult to walk on, so I moved to the outskirts of to some crustier stuff than wasn't like walking on a soft beach. Then I would come to an area where the next blaze was on the other side of a series of steep obstacles. In that case I figured it was perfectly acceptable for me to take a more meandering, yet less-steep, route. I was just very careful to mark a landmark on the horizon and try to keep the blaze I was heading to on a good bearing. I did fine, I'm not an idiot. I even completed the whole loop in 2 hours and 15 minutes, with dilly dallying for photos, record time for me.

The few signs of life I did see were almost always near the inter-dune flats. These flats are low spots in between dunes, duh, where water pools and stuff can grow. In these flats there were all manner of small animal tracks for lizards, mice, birds and other stuff. The one thing I did see on top of a dune was some sort of butterfly. I chased this stupid thing for like 200 meters trying to get a good photo, the poor contrast conditions wreaked havoc on my autofocus and chasing a butterfly and manual focusing is harder that it sounds.

I took some other photos along this hike and it was a great experience. I was amazed at how the sand was cool to the touch and it was actually quite nice to let it fill my shoes when my feet got hot. You could tell by the tracks that many people chose to go barefoot, totally possible with the cool sand.

I almost laid on my belly to shoot this, but opted to just kneel for this angle. I saved the belly shot for some dead piece of grass.
The sand at White Sands is white, imagine that. The white sand plays all sorts of tricks on your camera's guts it would be smart to actually know what you're doing or not really care to get ok photos. I thought it would be like shooting in snow, but it was different.
The scale of the place once you get a few miles into the dune field is ridiculous. This photo doesn't begin to show it, if you didn't have some sort of marker to help you get out you'd be a gonner.
I made a self portrait of myself. I hope the department of redundancy department doesn't read this.
Here is my belly grass photo. I like how the flopped over blade has carved a little sand off the surface .
After I made the self portrait I was pretty near the end of the Alkali Lake Trail and didn't really shoot too much more there. I made it back to the car and started my mission for a cliché.

This pretty much fits the mold for yucca photos at White Sands.

I even photographed one that didn't have the ting on top. I think I like this one the best.
So there we have it. I think I did a pretty good job of getting a nice photo of a yucca in a sand dune. I had a nice drive and made it home by 10 p.m. I will say when I left the park I thought to myself if I had had my passport with me I would have gone to Juarez for dinner. Probably a good thing I didn't.


Related Articles