White Sands National Monument – Dawn

November 27, 2015 at 5:32 pm (National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , , )


I have moved to Oklahoma for a better job, and enroute I spent a little time visiting national parks and wildlife refuges. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico was the last place I visited, and a big plus was visiting with Jim and Marlene who I knew as volunteers at Big Bend National Park. The chief ranger there was also in Law Enforcement at Big Bend, so it was old home week for us, remembering the magic of that wonderful park and the people who made it special.


I was allowed to get a half-hour head start in the morning since I would have missed the critical few minutes of the earliest light if I had waited until the gates opened at 7 a.m.


I had gone on the loop drive the previous evening, and there had been people everywhere. It was hard to get a good landscape photograph without someone perched on a sand dune, or without obvious footprints.But this morning, I was all alone, except for a few folks camping in the backcountry.


Wind overnight helped heal some of the previous day’s footprints, but not all. This scene above looks pristine. All of the photos were taken from the road, or just a few yards up a dune.


I was amazed to learn that this isn’t real sand, which is usually made of quartz crystals. It is actually powdered gypsum, the same material that goes into making sheetrock (wallboard) and plaster of Paris.


Consequently, it is water soluable, and except for the top few inches, it’s hardpacked, meaning you don’t lose two steps for every one you take up a dune.


You can rent round sleds at the gift shop and skid down the dunes. Or hire an outfitter to take you on a trailride, which I was lucky to photograph the evening before.  (Stay tuned!)


Although it was too chilly for reptiles, there are lizards that evolved to be a bleached brown/white to hide in the dunes.


The yucca adapt to the shifting sands by growing very long stems underground. Sometimes the sands move away from the yucca, leaving odd pedestals topped by a yucca or other plant whose roots grabbed onto the gypsum.


This is a gypsum valley between two mountain ranges. So when the range to the west is silhouetted at sunset, the range opposite is illuminated with alpenglow, and vice versa.


The dunes aren’t as high as the ones in Death Valley, and even though the sand is white, it takes on the orange and pink tones of sunrise and sunset.





I think these are roadrunner tracks.



By the time the entrance gate opened, the red tones were gone.


The gypsum sands look very much like snow. It was 19 degrees that morning, so it definitely had a wintry feel.



The simple curves of the sandscapes are among my favorite images.

To stay early or late you need special permission.  Check the park website for info:  http://www.nps.gov/whsa/learn/management/earlyentry.htm

Feel free to reblog or share

Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

Purchase these images here.

Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com



  1. Patti Henshaw said,

    Cindy amazing photos. Absolutely beautiful colors

  2. Robert said,


    What will you be doing for work in Oklahoma?

    Best to you and those great shots of White Sands,

    Rob Olson Kennebunk

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Cindy McIntyre said,

    Hi Rob – I’m “moving up” in federal service, working as a photojournalist for the Fort Sill Tribune. First day is Monday. I enjoy you and your wife’s photos. You are doing some really creative things with editing software. Be well!

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