In almost every location, there is an iconic image to capture. In White Sands National Monument, it is the iconic Soaptree Yucca plant on the white rippled sand. On our first visit last December, I didn’t do it justice. I had my list of excuses. We had cloudy skies. I couldn’t find one that was isolated from other plants. I couldn’t find one with untainted ripples of sand surrounding it. I left the National Monument feeling like I’d come up short. 

Fast forward to this visit. I have the vision of my Soaptree Yucca in my head. Would the weather cooperate? Could I find an isolated plant?  I had four opportunities to find and capture my image (two sunsets and two sunrises).

White Sands sets no bounds as to where you can explore. This is amazing as you can walk up close to plants, and trees, as well as hike deep into the dunes and even slide down the sand dunes with a sled. On the other hand, everyone likes to explore this beautiful white sand, which means there are footprints everywhere, making it very difficult to find a pristine area for that picture perfect photo. 

Sunset, Day 1: Soaptree Yucca Alpenglow

Our search began on our first evening. We headed out to the end of the park to the Alkali Flat trail to scout out a possible sunset shoot location. Make no mistake, this is not a flat trail, but rather one that weaves up and down through endless dunes of soft sand for 5 miles. It is not for the faint hearted.  Convinced we could hike away from the foot prints and find beautiful wind rippled white sand, we began our trek. After 30 minutes or so, all we could see was endless white dunes dotted with people, dogs and sleds. No rippled sand and certainly no soaptree yucca’s. With the golden hour upon us, we opted to leave the trail. I shook my head. What photographer leaves a location just when the light gets perfect? Sometimes, you just have to know when to cut your loses.

As we drove out of the park, it began to happen. A touch of pink appeared. The color deepened. Then the sky became rich with a deep alpenglow of pink and blue. I couldn’t miss this. I pulled the car over and jumped out. Grabbing my camera and tripod, I ran to the first Soaptree Yucca I could find on the side of the road. The alpenglow continued to deepen and I couldn’t shoot fast enough.

Soaptree Yucca, full moon and Alpenglow

Wow, did I luck out. We left the Alkali trail just in time to capture the amazing light on the yucca.

I still didn’t have my soaptree Yucca with a blue sky background, but there was always tomorrow. 

Sunrise, Day 2: Dense Fog

Up early to enter the park when it opened at 7am, I was surprised to drive the last 5 miles in dense fog. Visibility was only a couple of hundred feet. It would burn off quick, wouldn’t it?

It didn’t. 

Jeff in the distance with a Soaptree Yucca. Can you tell which is which?

The scene was surreal. The sky and sand blended together into one mass of white. No shadows and no sky. Trees and plants looked as if they were floating.  Except for almost loosing Jeff in the fog (he can get turned around going in and out of a parking lot), it was a great outing for shooting something a little different. But would it clear by sunset?

Missing blue sky and ripple sand.

Sunset, Day 2: Clouds

Not quite. The fog was gone, but lots of clouds remained. It was questionable as to whether there would be a sunset at all. Of course the sun would set, but would we see it was the question. We located not one, but two shooting options about a 100 yards apart, each with an isolated soaptree yucca. If it was going to happen, I was ready. 

I was not disappointed…. 

Shooting away from the sun, gave the clouds a pastel look
Shooting into the sun gave us the warm, rich colors, and running between the two locations gave me my exercise!

But still, I didn’t have my soaptree yucca with a blue background. There was one more morning and the forecast was for complete sunshine. 

Sunrise, Day 3: More Fog

And how often is the forecast correct? As we drove to the park for our final shoot, we were enveloped again in deep fog. The fog was even thicker than the day before. Unwilling to concede defeat, I drove to the other end of the park hoping that the slightly higher elevation might get us above the fog. At the end of the road, the sun started to break through and the light was amazing. 

Soft golden light through the fog created another amazing silhouette
Jeff capturing his shot
At last, blue sky and ripples.

It was close to the ideal “iconic” image I had envisioned. After eight shoots (if I count the four from the previous visit), I love what I captured on this visit.

What do you think?

Remember, it’s all about the light!