My first visit to White Sands National Monument was just five months ago, but I liked it so much I wanted to return as soon as possible. This time I planned to camp on the dunes, an option I hadn’t known about when I first went. The whole place is closed overnight to everyone except campers, so sleeping in the backcountry would make it much easier to get sunset and sunrise photos.
I arrived at the visitor center soon after it opened, reserved one of the 10 campsites, and hiked out to set up my tent. The campsites are positioned in flat areas between dunes, about a mile away from the parking area, so you’re separated from other campers but still relatively close to your car.
At mid-day I drove to the nearest town – Alamogordo – for lunch, and then headed back to the dunes for afternoon photos.
I had to walk far from my campsite to find good areas of footprint-free sand. As sunset approached I should have started working my way back, but the clouds picked up some amazing color and I didn’t want to miss any of it.
Turns out it’s not particularly easy to navigate on dunes in the dark. The trail connecting the campsites is marked with plastic poles sticking up from the sand, but they were impossible to see from so far away. Still, the San Andres mountains in the west and the distant glow of Alamogordo in the east gave me a general sense of direction, and after a lot of walking I began to see the small dark shapes of other campers sitting on the dunes overlooking their sites.
Back at my tent I tried photographing the stars, something I haven’t really worked on in the past. Most of the shots were terrible, but I did get a nice one of my tent under the night sky.
I slept poorly, as I always do in tents, and headed out for photos well before dawn.
I considered staying a second night, but I’d already been lucky enough to get a full day of good conditions on the dunes, and I was worn out. So I decided the time was right to make the eight hour drive to my parent’s house in Denver.
I spent the next week catching up with my family, playing pull-toy with my parent’s dog Hunter, working on photos, getting my taxes out of the way, and handling a long string of last-minute preparations for my upcoming trip to Southeast Asia and Mongolia. It was great to see everyone – my parents, my sister Ann and her husband Dan, my niece Elizabeth, my sister Kathleen, and my niece Susan – and I was hugely grateful that my parents let me use their place as a home base.
The day before my flight to Manila I test-packed my two bags – one carry-on sized wheeled duffel and one camera backpack. I tried my best to keep them light but still managed to overstuff them, accepting that I’ll have to do some streamlining as I go.
I was excited and a little anxious when the time finally came to get on the plane. From previous experience I know I truly love extended international travel and am capable of making it work, but that same experience also raises my expectations. I have to keep reminding myself that every trip is different and that I need to keep an open mind as I get to know this one.