This is an image I could see in my head before we ever packed up the Jeep and started west this past February. I knew Milky Way “season” had begun, I knew that there would be a quarter moon setting behind me, and I knew the moon would “light up” the white sand given the exposure I would need for the stars. The only real question was figuring out what I wanted to use for foreground. So I was very eager to get to Alamogordo, NM, and to White Sands National Monument. A photograph was waiting for me.
But I never got it. The picture you see here isn’t real. The bottom portion is, in fact, part of White Sands NM and that’s certainly the Milky Way hanging above it. Unfortunately, they’re two different images taken in two different places. The Milky Way image is from Death Valley.
Photoshop strikes again.
Actually, not getting the photograph – the real one, I mean – was pretty much my own fault. My research was a little less than adequate on this occasion. I assumed that getting into the Monument between sunset and sunrise wouldn’t be a problem (I needed to be there about 3:30 AM). With few exceptions, National Parks – and Monuments – are open 24/7. Most can be accessed at any time. Just drive through the gate and do your thing.
Not at White Sands. While I was there the gate wouldn’t open until 7:00 AM (opening and closing time changes as sunrise and sunset times change). So I went into the Visitor Center and asked a Ranger how to get in during “off-hours”. She handed me a pamphlet titled “Photography Before or After Hours FAQ”. After reading one of the first sentences I knew I was in trouble:
“At White Sands NM we share our boundaries with the U. S. military at Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. Due to security issues, the monument has specific posted hours of operation”.
There are two ways to get around this. The first is to camp in the park in one of ten backcountry sites. For me, not an option. I have no camping gear. The second way involves filing some formal paperwork and then waiting at least 3 days for “approval or denial” of your request. Then, if it’s approved, you have to pay $50 for every hour – or part of an hour – that is earlier than the posted opening or later than the closing. If I wanted to be inside at 3:30 AM, for example, that would be 3.5 hours early (200 bucks!). And the payment has to be in some form of cash. No checks or credit cards.
Not to mention the fact that if you’re more than 10 minutes late to the gate the ranger assigned to open it for you will “go about their duties”. No money will be refunded.
So scratch that option. I wasn’t going to get my picture. Not a real one, anyway. I briefly considered parking on the road and hiking in but quickly rejected that idea. Who knows how seriously they take their “security issues”?
I kinda like this picture, though. I had to relearn some Photoshop techniques that I hadn’t used in a long time, but it worked out pretty well. Heck, maybe I’ll print a big one and hang it on the wall.
Or maybe I’ll send a copy to White Sands and tell them I snuck in. And then wait for the FBI to show up…….