White Sands, New Mexico
by Jill Lindenbaum
Driving into White Sands National Monument the park road fades from black asphalt to white sugar as it winds between rows of billowy bright dunes. It is difficult to find a place to rest your eyes. Looking for color along the horizon, the starkness is disorienting. Everything is white. Today, storm clouds gather where sky and land meet with surprising contrast—indigo above, ivory below. The overall mood is quiet. Then, the stillness of the dunes is broken by howls of delight.
Lovebirds Sera Lindsay and Philip Eastman are on a road trip here. The LA–based pair (photographers, writers, collaborators in work and life) run up the first dune. It’s higher and steeper and harder to get good footing on than anticipated. When they do, the earth gives way with a surprising crunch, even though it looks powdery soft.
At the top of the enormous dune, the reward is an even more breathtaking view: bright white sand dunes reaching out like this for hundreds of miles. Sera and Philip sled down the giant wave-like dunes with trays they pick up at the gift shop. It’s a bumpier and slower ride than on snow and getting dumped in the sand is definitely part of the fun.
There are just a few, sparse plants and even fewer animals that are adjusted to this harsh environment. There is, of course, science behind this unusual natural beauty. The enormous dunes—some reaching up to three stories—are made of water-soluble gypsum, rarely found in sand form. But here, rain dissolves the gypsum in surrounding mountains and then is trapped inside the large Tularosa Basin below. Shallow pools form that later dry out and leave selenite, gypsum in crystalline form. Erosion breaks down the selenite crystal into sand and the prevailing southwest winds carry it, forming these white, rippled sand dunes continually moving, creeping, and ever so slowly, shifting.
To Sera, the constantly shifting dunes are a symbol of constant circulation, “The desert births itself from selenite and forms into these giant dunes. They’re like clouds, different every day, in constant motion, ever changing.”