White Sands, White Dunes, White Clouds, Blue Sky

White Sands, White Dunes, White Clouds, Blue Sky

Last week I happily knocked off another entry written down in my bucket list. I visited White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and it was so much better than everything I had hoped for! I’d read a lot about the area before I arrived over the years and nothing on this visit failed to amaze me! When I arrived the sky was blinding white – not very good for shooting landscapes, and since I was in a bit of a time crunch, I knew I wouldn’t be around for sunset. Luckily the clouds came in as I was at the furthest point on my five-mile barefoot hike on the Alkali Flat Trail. When the clouds did come in – followed by a sandstorm, it made for some incredible images of the dunes and the vastness of this incredible (and largest!) gypsum sand desert in the world. Best of all – I got one of my dream lizard species – the bleached earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata ruthveni) – on camera!

~ click on any image to enlarge ~

Creosote

White Sands and Creosote Bush

A lone, wind-beaten creosote bush stands solidly at the beginning of a sandstorm.

White Sands Desert and Dunes, New Mexico

White Sands Desert and Dunes, New Mexico

Sand Verbena

Sand Verbena

The sand verbena (sometimes also called the purple or pink sand verbena) is a very hardy, heat-resistant desert survivor in the American Southwest. Not many plants survive in the gypsum sands desert of White Sands National Monument in Southern New Mexico with its shifting dunes, but this one does just fine.

Sand Verbena

Sand Verbena

Close-up detail of the sand verbena. This southwestern native wildflower is found in the wild only in Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Texas.

Bombardier Beetle

Bombardier Beetle

A bombardier beetle (a type of darkling beetle) stands out in extreme contrast against the sand dunes of White Sands National Monument in Southern New Mexico, a wild landscape of gypsum sands piled into massive sand dunes.

Soaptree Yucca

Soaptree Yucca

A common yucca of the Chihuahuan desert, the soapweed yucca is and was a significantly important plant for the Native American tribes inhabiting the area where it is found. A common yucca of the Chihuahuan desert, the soapweed yucca’s fibrous leaves were used use to make belts, cloth, baskets, cords and mats, the roots were used to make a natural soap – hence the common name.

House Finch

House Finch

A male house finch rests in the welcome shade of a soaptree yucca in the bright morning sun in Southern New Mexico’s White Sands desert. This native to the American Southwest and Mexico has recently been expanding into the Eastern United States and Hawaii.

Hot Deserts and Snowy Peaks

Hot Deserts and Snowy Peaks

White Sands National Monument and the snowy peak of Sierra Blanca in the distance.

Ripples and Clouds

Ripples and Clouds

Bleached Earless Lizard

Bleached Earless Lizard 

The infamous and rare, bleached earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata ruthveni) – a lizard with an evolutionary adaptation to living on the white gypsum sand dunes on White Sands (the largest gypsum sand dune desert in the world) found resting in the shade of an enormous dune late in the morning of a bright and sunny spring day.

Bleached Earless Lizard

Bleached Earless Lizard 

I managed to catch this one after leaving a trail of camera equipment across the dunes, running barefoot in the soft sand so I could take a close look at this beautiful white lizard before letting it go free and unharmed. When comparing it to its close cousins – the lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata), you can see how this amazing adaptation to white scales helps it camouflage itself against predators in the blinding white sands.

Bleached Earless Lizard

 Bleached Earless Lizard 

 

Bleached Earless Lizard

Bleached Earless Lizard

This beautiful member of the Phrynosomatid lizard family has evolved white scales to enable it to blend in with the white gypsum sands. I wouldn’t have seen it if it hadn’t moved.

Sand Verbena in White Sands, New Mexico

 Sand Verbena in White Sands, New Mexico

 

Assassin Bug

 Assassin Bug

An unidentified member of the assassin bug family (Reduviidae) tumbles and rolls along on a strong wind through the White Sands dunes of Southern New Mexico.

Sky and Sand - White Sands, New Mexico

Sky and Sand – White Sands, New Mexico

The sun went behind a cloud for a moment…

Barefoot Hiker in White Sands, New Mexico

Barefoot Desert Hiking in April

It’s a blast! The day was about 65°-70°F and when you dig your feet down an inch or two into the sand, it’s nice and cold!

White Sands Desert, New Mexico

 White Sands Desert, New Mexico

Layers of dunes, a sandstorm, mountains and clouds make for some interesting photography!

White Sands Desert, New Mexico

Desert Dunes, Valleys and Sky

White Sands Dunes and Sky, New Mexico

                                                                                          

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Rich Leighton
April 22, 2015
ALL IMAGES AVAILABLE FOR PRINT OR DIGITAL DOWNLOAD!
©2015 Leighton Photography & Imaging

About The Author

Pro photographer, writer, master naturalist, Florida native in the PNW, lucky husband, father of two boys, big hockey and soccer fan, and native orchid hunter.

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