New Mexico Part II – White Sands National Monument

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New Mexico Part II – White Sands National Monument

This is a two-part blog post, so if you didn’t see the first part, you can catch up here.

At some point in the planning process of this trip, I convinced Dani that we should visit White Sands while in New Mexico, since it was only a mere three and a half hours away from Albuquerque. I’d been to White Sands twice before, both times while in college, but I wanted a chance to go back as a real photographer and, essentially, see if it was as awesome as I remembered. Plus the balloon fiesta didn’t have many (if any) events happening mid-week, so we thought it would be a good time to go. Let me just tell you that three and a half hours of driving in the desert feels more like double that. Not a lot of scenery in these here parts. An advertised “rest stop” was literally a bench and a trash can along the side of the road. Dani managed to not be too annoyed at all the car games I wanted to play, and eventually we found ourselves in White Sands a couple hours before sunset.

Yup. Still just as awesome as I remembered.

What makes White Sands different from other places with sand dunes is the sheer size, and also the color. These dunes take up 275 square miles of desert, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world. That’s nuts! And it looks so brilliantly and brightly white sometimes it hurts your eyes. I read that the sand grains start out clear and translucent, but when they scrape up against each other, the scratches make them appear white. So the whole place looks like snow-covered hills. Unbelievably beautiful.

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Dani was indeed here, with her White Sands t-shirt she bought at the Gap. In Maryland. I’m just jealous I didn’t have one too.2015-01-08_0007 2015-01-08_0006

I think I look cool in this photo. Walking off into the sunset.
Dani Leigh Photography

And then of course I had to be not cool and ask Dani to take a photo of me jumping. I think I have one of these in nearly every place I’ve visited. 
Dani Leigh Photography

Okay, back to more pretty sand dunes.
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Then sunset really started happening.
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Obligatory selfies. You’d think I’d be better at the timing for this jumping photo since I was the one pushing the button.
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We wanted to stay longer and take more night shots, but some park official was driving around with a pre-recorded message blaring through his speakers that the park was about to close, and we didn’t want to be locked in overnight, so we left.

The next morning it looked a bit like rain. Then more and more like rain the closer we got to the park. This weird little thing was on the side of the road (but check out the sky!).

It did sprinkle a bit, and we could always see the rain in the distance, but for the most part we stayed dry and ended up with some epic skies. EPIC.

It was different every direction we turned, cloudy and gloomy on one side, beautiful and blue on another. We could not have picked a more perfect time to be there!
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I’m deeming these next two our inspirational wanderlust photos (available for purchase if anyone would like them poster-size.)

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We amused ourselves by doing goofy poses. My first attempt at yoga:
Dani Leigh Photography

Back to normal here.
Dani Leigh Photography

Nope, fooled ya. Not done being silly yet. I’m so athletic, running in the sand.
Dani Leigh Photography
Dani Leigh Photography

I mean, this doesn’t even look real.

After spending the morning hours photographing what you just saw, we headed back to Albuquerque. The only major thing left on our list of stuff we wanted to do was the Sandia Peak Tramway. It was kinda rainy and cold in Alb (as we took to calling it, because, let’s be honest – that is a lot of syllables and not easy to spell) so it was the perfect indoor(ish) activity. I didn’t have super high expectations for this, and ended up thinking it was actually pretty cool. I mean, you’re traveling up a mountain for nearly 3 miles in a cable car. Just marveling at the engineering alone is enough to make it interesting, but the view didn’t suck either. This is from the bottom:


Going up. This landscape looks almost sepia-toned, but really it is the window tint I’m shooting through. 
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At the top! Brrrrrr…..
Dani Leigh Photography

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Right before we headed back down, I snapped this. I love how the sun is hitting that one long sliver of the mountain.2015-01-08_0064

And that’s it, guys! I don’t have any profound words to wrap this up with, but I will say I truly loved everything about this trip. When you are seeing things beautiful enough to make you cry, it is totally worth the time and money for that experience, in my opinion. I’ll never forget the feeling of staring up at the hundreds of balloons floating along like bubbles in the sky, or the cool sand between my toes as I ran down the dunes. That is what traveling is all about for me, these moments when everything seems aligned and perfect in the world, and you can’t imagine anywhere else you’d rather be.


  1. Dani says:

    Awww. I love that last paragraph. That’s how I feel too and I am so lucky I get to go on these trips with you!!

  2. Lauren says:

    This is so pretty!! Looks like a blast!!

  3. Brea says:

    I love that last paragraph too. So amazing. These photos are just absolutely stunning, this is definitely getting added to my list of places to go and things to see. Those night shots with the stars in the sky are stunning.

  4. Brooke says:

    I am totally living vicariously through each of your blog posts, Emily!! I never realized New Mexico was so beautiful!

  5. Kate Ann says:

    You two look like you had so much fun!! Stunning images!!!

  6. I thought the first few photos were incredible but then I saw those sunset ones! Such a gorgeous place!

  7. Kat says:

    …and now I’m longing for white sands and pretty beaches 🙂

  8. tPoz says:

    ok, I pretty much forgot all my comments by the time I got to the end of this mesmerizing post…but let me see if I can do it justice…
    a) dying laughing at your car games!
    b) mesmerizing – seriously! the shots with the sandy bokeh, the night shot with all the stars in the sky, the one of you walking into the sunset, the one of dani being all cool in her faux t-shirt & the perspective of how little you guys are in those dunes.
    c) was it windy there? Did you switch lenses!?
    d) you guys are hysterical with your goofy pics – and you got some serious AIR on that jump! (or at least the photograph makes me perceive it that way!)
    e) as much as I hate driving long distances – 3.5 hours would totally be worth it for this!!

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