Walking barefoot across the dunes of White Sands New Mexico is a truly surreal experience. The incredibly fine gypsum sand particles feel soft against your feet. It is not at all like walking on a beach like one would think. It is like walking on a sea of the finest sand imaginable that is constantly in a cycle of erosion and renewal. The reflection of the sun in the pure white sand is blinding. The environment is so bright that I cannot even see my camera screen and had no idea how any of my photos turned out until I reached shade outside of the dunes. The endless dunes and scarce wildlife truly make you feel like you are on another planet. The occasional Soaptree Yucca elongates its alienesque tuft of blooms toward the blue sky with its narrow stem. Its leaf base looks like that of a Martian species surrounded by lifeless waves of sand.
In the distance you can see the barren mountain range that looms over the horizon and holds the mysterious history of the Chihuahuan Desert. It seems that the sand meets the ocean as the desert is contrasted by the solid blue sky, and even as the sun creates a brilliant light against the sand, the daytime moon lurks above. Although it seems that life would not be able to endure this empty land, I follow a thin trail of tiny footprints to a pale white lizard who had scurried into the shade of the single cane cholla cactus on the dune. Its magenta flowers are vivid signs of thriving life against its pure white surroundings and its finely barbed spines defend it from the sharp competition for survival. The lizard is safe under the curtain of needles.
As I walk deeper into the dune hills I come across two Swedish boys carrying round sleds. From the top of the dune they hop on for the ride down a sudden drop off in a dune where the wind had swept the base of the hill away, leaving a steep incline. On top of the dune the wind starts to pick up and the fine grains grind against my skin. The tiny sand gets into the smallest of crevasses so I am careful to protect my camera equipment. Through the sandblast I continue to follow the trail which is indicated by periodic sticks buried in the dunes. Looking down I spot a dead Sand-Treader Camel Cricket. The all white insect is barely noticeable against the sand. Although he is perfectly adapted to his environment with specialized spines on his legs for burrowing into the sand, he must not have dug himself deep enough to avoid the day’s heat. These signs of endemic species demonstrate just how well nature can adapt to survive even in the harshest environments. The level of specialization in this environment is incredible and there is nowhere else like it on earth.
Elizabeth has a great blog on ecotourism and life in the jungle — therealjunglebook.wordpress.com