Essence of Place – White Sands in Chihuahuan Desert

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument ©2013 Bo Mackison

White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico is a desert within a desert.

The park is surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert – a desert  of low scrub plants. This desert of white sand dunes has even less vegetation than the Chihuahuan Desert.

Sherpa and I stopped at White Sands on our cross country trip from the Midwest to Tucson. Since I had a limited amount of time for photographs, I attempted to capture the essence of the park in a few select photographs.

The above landscape photo shows a progression of dunes, each topped with low grasses and yucca. The dunes are spotted with plants that thrive in gypsum — the white sand is pure gypsum. Gyp moonpad and gyp nama are common.

Sund Dune

Sand Dune ©2014 Bo Mackison

This photo of the arch of a crescent shaped dune is a small part of the larger desert landscape.

This kind of landscape photograph is often called an intimate landscape, and is a technique pioneered by Eliot Porter. Typically there is little emphasis on the horizon, the lighting, or a long shot of a vista, but instead the focus is on pattern, texture and composition.

Intimate landscapes often have an abstract feel.

Sand Drift

Sand Drift © 2014 Bo Mackison

The ripples of sand drifts offered plenty of opportunity for a close up photo.

The texture of the fine sand is nearly visible, the texture of sugar. This isn’t a typical macro-photograph, but it does give a good indication of the movement paths of wind blown sand.

Photo Session in White Sands National Monument

Portrait Session in White Sands © 2014 Bo Mackison

A portrait in a landscape, or an unexpected detail in a landscape.

When I saw this photographer setting up his equipment for a portrait, I had to get a shot even though they were far away. It gives a different perspective of White Sands – the grasses in the foregorund, the gently rolling sand hills, and then the tiny figures on the horizon – a photographer adjusting his camera on a tripod, and his posing subject.

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument © 2014 Bo Mackison

White Sands National Monument attracts a fair number of sledders.

The gift shop at the park headquarters even sells the round discs for sledding. So it seemed appropriate, as part of capturing the park’s overall feel, that I include a photograph of the visitors who came to the desert for a sled ride.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Rabbitbrush in White Sand © 2014 Bo Mackison

And a final photograph, a bit of the hardy vegetation that grows in one of the more hostile climates in the world.

Not many plants thrive with little rainfall, constant wind and creeping sands, drastic changes in temperatures of day and night, scorching sun and intense heat in the summer, and a soil that has minimal nutrients. The rabbitbrush and dune grasses are highly adapted plants that live where few plants can.


About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. What a beautiful place. Thank you for sharing that with us, Bo. It’s one of those places I’d love to visit someday, but there are so many that I’ll have to live forever to get to them all. lol! I learned a few things from this post, too, so another thank you for that. Gorgeous images, all of them.

  2. Silver Bird Photography says:

    Love these images. I have Edward and Brett Westons book, Dune, which are pictures they took at White Sands. I hope to visit the desert someday, so much beauty there…

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