White Sands, New Mexico

July 29th, 2011 | Posted by Steve in New Mexico

These are photos from White Sands National Monument & White Sands Missile Range.  From July 11 to July 15 I was working at White Sands Missile Range.  I arrived in Las Cruces, NM the afternoon of the 10th after an interesting drive from Phoenix.  All through Arizona & New Mexico I kept the truck in cruise control changing the speed to match the posted limit as necessary.

This may have been unnecessary in Arizona because from Phoenix to the state line on I-10 (around 300 miles) I never saw any suggestion of police or highway patrol.  Once in New Mexico, however, that changed.

The drive from Lordsburg to Las Cruces is pretty flat.  Everywhere are signs that airplanes are clocking your speed.  I was cruising along at the 75 limit while a few motorists were passing me doing maybe 80-85.  All of a sudden a highway patrolman appears ahead of me out of no where with his lights flashing.  He gets out of his vehicle, stands in the slow lane, and waves 3 cars over!  One keeps going so he climbs in and chases that guy down!   40 or 50 miles later another highway patrolman appears and stops someone else.  Enough said about that.

While in the Las Cruces area I was able to get to the White Sands National Monument twice.  White Sands covers 275 square miles and is skirted by Highway 70 on the east.  It gets it name from the Gypsum crystals that make up the sand, and is the world’s largest Gypsum dune field.

My first visit was mid afternoon on Monday 7-11.   These first and second views give a sense of the place.  It is somewhat desolate, but I think very pretty.  The white color of the sand reflects the sunlight and the heat back onto you.  There is a road that takes visitors into the dune field a few miles.  After that if you want to see more you may hike in, but take lots of water.

This first photo is shot with the 24-105mm lens at a 24mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160th of a second at f/22.  The depth of field is immense so everything is pretty much in focus from the foreground to infinity.

(click on photos to enlarge)


The second photo is with the 15mm fisheye lens.  The ISO has changed to 640, the exposure is 1/1250th of a second at f/18.  I have tilted the camera up to give the horizon a cigar or football effect.  As usual with the fisheye everything is in focus.  This was one of my last shots of the afternoon.  The clouds coming in from the east hit us a few minutes later with a thundershower that lasted maybe 15 minutes as we drove out of the park.  The photo is slightly cropped, but the field of view is still pushing about 150 degrees.



This 3rd photo was shot (time wise) between the two above.  It shows what I believe is a Soaptree Yucca as it is beginning to bloom.  This is shot with the 15mm fisheye.  The horizon is flat and the stem of the Yucca is straight because both lines fall along the center plane of the lens.  The front of the camera lens is probably 8 inches from the spines of the Yucca leaves & maybe 12 inches from the stem itself.  This is ISO 640, 1/1250th of a second at f/18.


This last photo of the White Sands area was shot on Friday, 7-15, in the morning.

Of the 4 photos of the park shown here I like this one best.  The white sands and the deep blue sky make a wonderful contrast.  I was with my friend Crawford Kirkpatrick.  He and I have gone photo shooting before.  We hiked some 15 minutes into the dune fields before I got this photo.

This is again what I believe is a Soaptree Yucca, this one long after the bloom.  The photo is also shot with the fisheye, ISO 640, 1/800th of a second at f/18.  Again the front of the lens is only a few inches from the plant.  There is a bit of curvature in the horizon as the subject is off center of the lens.  The sky is bluer at right.  This is because the field of view of the lens is so large. The sun is just out of the field at upper left.  The sky at upper right is almost 90 degrees away so it is less lit by the sun, hence darker.

[Added from original post:  The first 3 photos above are possibly a bit underexposed.  The clouds seem white enough, but the sand is a bit too tan or yellow.  These are probably suffering from not using an 18% gray card.  The 4th photo, immediately above, however, shows the white sands very well.]

From White Sands National Monument we drove back to the White Sands Missile Range base.  Two things attracted us there.  First was lunch in the brand new dining facility.  It was only $4.25 and very good.  Second is the outdoor museum.  Next to the north entrance is a museum with many items tested at the base from the 1950’s to the 1980’s.   There are easily 50 or more items on display.

These are all snapshots, but interesting nonetheless.  The first thing that caught my eye was this warning sign.  I have been wary of rattlesnakes while hiking, even seeing two or three, but this is the first warning sign I recall.


Not far beyond the sign is a casing for a Fat Man bomb.  Fat Man was the bomb used on Nagasaki, Aug. 9, 1945.  It is an implosion design utilizing a Plutonium core.  According to the sign this casing was built for a real bomb in 1947.  I saw a Little Boy casing [the Hiroshima bomb] in Washington, D.C.  in 2001, now I’ve seen them both.


Not far from the Fat Man is a Patriot Missile battery.  I’m guessing it is a generation 1 from the time of the Gulf War by the remarks painted on it.


This next one I call one of Jonathan’s toys.  Jonathan, my younger son, served in the Army.  He specialized in Artillery.  This is an M198 Howitzer.  It has a 155mm bore, or about 6.1 inches.  This particular example was used as a testing platform for a laser guided projectile.  Many of the museum displays can be seen in the background.


For years people have heard about flying saucers and some people even suspect the government of a cover up.  I suppose if you want to hide something the best place to do so is out in the open where no one will notice.  Not now!  Here is the government’s flying saucer used in the mid 1960’s to gather data on slowing a rocket down for atmospheric entry.  It was used near Roswell, NM of course.  [This snapshot is underexposed to bring out the detail in the saucer & plaque which would otherwise be washed out.]


One of the displays was a brightly painted McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom from the Vietnam War days.  This one was a carrier based plane because it had a tail hook.  I tried to shoot this photo to exclude most of the background displays.  The Fat Man bomb is at lower right.


The last shot from this day trip is a Barrel Cactus in bloom.  It was on the grounds of the museum and I couldn’t resist the sight.  It is shot with the 24-105mm lens, ISO 640, 1/400th of a second at f/16.


The following day, July 16, I was back on the road to visit with my friend Ron for a few more days of photography in Arizona.  The evening of July 16 we were at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Diamondbacks hosted the LA Dodgers and beat them 3-2.

Sunday morning Ron and I were on the road with camera batteries full and memory cards empty.  Photos of those trips will be in the next postings.

For those of you new to this list, I usually send things out every 4-6 weeks or so, but this last trip yielded so many good photographs that there will be 2 or 3 more emails in the next week or two so I can get caught up.



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