The alarm went off early and in that last daze of sleep, we packed our gear into the truck. It was still dark when we pulled up to the entrance of White Sands National Monument. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for, the sunrise photo shoot.
The ranger reviewed our permit and opened the gate, allowing nine of us full access to the park without another person in sight. I was excited, quickly going over the list in my head. Tripod…memory cards…lenses…and the location I had picked out the night before when we’d made our first visit. I wished I had remembered a head lamp or flashlight. But, it was a bit late for that, so I planned to make do with what I had.
I stepped out of the truck to unload my gear. It was COLD! What was I thinking wearing capri pants for a sunrise shoot? BRRRR! We climbed back in and waited for the blue light to come. Now I was worried. How long could I stay out in the frigid weather?
Then things slowly began to come into focus. The early light that comes before the sun peeks over the horizon had arrived. It was as if the starting gun went off. Everyone was quickly out of the cars and moving in different directions. I grabbed my gear and walked out beyond the first dune. I left the world behind as I forged on alone. The footprints in the sand from the previous day had been wiped away by the overnight winds and the new canvas was just asking to be painted by the morning light.
For a brief moment I tensed up and wondered, “Are there snakes?” Then I thought about how cool it was and decided that if there were, they wouldn’t be out yet, so I relaxed and moved on.
Planning my route carefully, I walked in areas that wouldn’t show up in the pictures that were forming in my head. I sat down in the sand as I positioned my tripod. I was surprised by how soft and fine the sand was. I scooped a handful and let it run through my fingers. It was quiet and peaceful. I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as I looked around at the incredible scenery of sand, grasses and yuccas. There was no sound, but a light breeze ruffled my hair. Saying a quick “thank you” out loud, I started trying to capture on my camera, the beauty I was seeing with my own eyes.
The cold didn’t exist as I quickly worked, moving to seek different perspectives. I would stop every few minutes to look around. In the past, I have been known to view my world through a camera lens and to miss the bigger picture. Making it a priority on my travels, I now stop to see, listen and appreciate my surroundings. It’s not all about capturing the “shot” but being aware and experiencing special moments. There is always a second when I can’t believe I’m here and then a feeling of gratitude for the opportunities I have to visit amazing places.
Getting up to reposition my shot, I looked back and saw the imprint of the back of my jeans in the sand. It was so perfect that I’m sure if I looked closely, I would have seen the brand name on the impression left by the snaps on my back pockets. I wondered if visitors later in the day would notice the print of my backside. The thought made me laugh out loud.
Then the sun made it’s appearance, slowly climbing over the edge of the horizon casting long shadows across the waves of sand. Yucca plants creating shadows five times their length. After a few minutes I removed my camera from the tripod and composed more shots, clicking the shutter until my memory card was full, quickly changing it out so I could begin again.
Before I knew it, my friend Janet was calling my name and the trance I’d been in from the moment I’d stepped out of the truck was broken. Sunrise was over and the group was headed to another area of the park. I stretched, picked up my tripod and walked back to where the vehicles were parked, taking a few last pictures along the way.
Staying around for a few more hours, this time in more of a group, we wandered around with our cameras. The scenery was still spectacular and it was fun to be with my fellow photographers. We laughed and experimented with different shots, this time adding people into the landscapes.
Then, satisfied with a job well done, we climbed back into the vehicles and returned to town for breakfast. It was a magical morning on the white sands.