White on White, Snow on Sand

Ever wondered what snow would look like on White Sands' sand dunes?  We were given the rare opportunity to find out!  But first, a bit of information about these most awesome sand dunes.  According to the National Park Service, "Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert in the Tularosa Basin and created the largest gypsum dune field in the world."  The iconic shot of the dunes shows a glistening brilliant white sand dune with a yucca plant.  The  relentless wind moves and shapes the sand into its characteristic ripples and sweeps footprints back into ripples.  The dunes change throughout the day as the light changes their shadows where even the smallest ripple and sharp curve is accentuated.  Add some rain, then snow and you see a very different picture.  I imagined it to be even more awesome!  Judge for yourself.

This was taken the first day we visited the monument.  We chased the storm to Alamogordo.  With just a very short time left to photograph the dunes . . . well this is not the way I expected them to look.  They were a bit rain drenched.  The mountain in the back is the Sacramento Mountain.  It can often be seen from various elevations within the monument.

It is not unusual for the dunes to look brown, beige or golden in early morning or late afternoon light.  But, gone are the rippled shadows we treasure.  Very interesting texture!

After an abbreviated shoot, we went on to Alamogordo for dinner and checking into White Sands Motel.  An overnight strong winter storm was predicted and it was expected to last into the next day.  Yeah!  Snow as far south as Las Cruces!  I dreamed of a White Sands winter wonderland.  As photographers we know that we must be flexible about planning with Mother Nature.  We arrived at the gate of the monument the next morning only to find it closed due to inclement weather!!  Plan B took us to Oliver Lee State Park.  Another night in Alamogordo in hopes . . .  dashed when the monument was set to open up late in the day.  We decided, wisely I believe, to call it a day and drive to Albuquerque.  We returned two days later, expecting there to be little if any snow.

Surely not as much snow as there would have been on Friday and Saturday, but still plenty of the white, wet and cold stuff.  By Sunday afternoon, however, the footprints were in great abundance as people flocked to check out the monument and there was no wind to smooth out the sand and leave any ridges.  And that wet sand was not going anywhere, even in a wind!  A very different look to White Sands!

As it turns out. white sand is beige when wet.  And wet it was!  If you stepped in some areas your foot print would look as though it had water in the bottom of it.  Greg got a pretty 'clean' shot here.

Ann got some nice 'rounded' shadows.

Greg captured the 'difference'.  When wind blows the sand into patterns it actually lifts the dry sand up and deposits the sand into ridges.  Water, on the other hand, pushes the wet and heavy sand along into a different looking ridge.  You can clearly see this in action here.  Great photo Greg!!!

Another oddity.  Cracks!  Have never seen those before.  Wet sand drying out, apparently cracks!  I cannot explain that but here you have it.

Melted snow running down and erasing sand ripples.

Beautiful!!  Sand or snow?

To me, these look more like mounds of sand rather than dunes.  Ripple patterns left by melting snow demonstrate that the power of moving water can be just as interesting as ripples caused by moving air.

There were snow men being built all over the place.  I counted six.  But this one was the most impressive.  I watched the family build it.  After they left I decided it was really a snow woman and put my scarf around her neck.

This image has a story.  I smile as I write it up.  I was showing Ann how her photos of the path that she is hiking serves as a 'leading line'.  She got the point!  Then she got a bit artsy in her interpretation!  The red poles are markers placed every quarter mile to guide hikers around a loop.  There are actually three in this photo.  But, for me, the REAL leading line is the shadow of Ann, super hiker, that indicates "I am going there."  And she did.

Just look at Ann's face!  

Whether there is snow or just sand, the sun eventually sets, daily, actually.  This is looking south as the Ranger drives by and breaks the intensely meditative mood set by this sort of scene.  "The monument is now closing.  Please head to the exit."  

Looking eastward.  The sun brings out the red in the rocks.

The day was done.  Our visit was done.  We will most certainly return.  In May the White Sands Verbena will bloom.  I will be there for that.  Thank you for sharing as we got to see a different side of what Mother Nature can have in mind.