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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Between the Storms

December 23rd, 2011 · 2 Comments

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If the storm hadn’t closed the park, we wouldn’t have seen the oryx.

The gate to White Sands National Monument was locked when we arrived there on December 6. I was there with three other photographers on a photo safari that Russ Burden led.

Russ had led the incredible tour of the Everglades that I took with him in February. Russ is both a top-flight professional photographer and a dedicated teacher. I had learned so much from him on that tour that I made sure to go with him again, particularly after another participant on the Everglades tour, the gifted photographer Cheryl Tyson, told me how great his New Mexico tour is.

Cheryl was absolutely right about New Mexico. But any December tour there risks bad weather. If we had tried to get there a couple of days earlier, all the roads leading there would have been closed. Heavy snow had stopped all traffic at Socorro, and they had opened the highway just as we reached that town. Beyond Socorro the roads were icy but passable, and we looked forward to exploring White Sands that evening.

But because of the oryx, we couldn’t get to the park. The oryx come from Africa, and the only ones I had ever seen were in Somalia in 1963. These oryx, however, came from the Kalahari Desert. The New Mexico Fish and Game Department released 93 of them onto the White Sands Missile Range, which surrounds the national monument, between 1969 and 1973. They did so well there that the U.S. Park Service spent more than $1 million to fence them out of the national monument.

We too were fenced out. And no park service employees were at work when we got there. This wasn’t in the plan.

But just after we left the locked gate, Donna, one of the three other photographers on the Russ’s tour, spotted five large animals, each weighing about 400 to 500 pounds with straight black horns up to 40 inches long. So all of us, including Jamie from Washington, D.C., and Katy, who works in Luanda, Angola, but also lives in Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, piled out to photograph them. Russ said that in all the years he had led tours to White Sands he had never seen oryx here. When I took a backpacking trip here in 2008, I didn’t even know about the oryx.

Two of the Oryx We Saw Outside of White Sands

Two of the Oryx We Saw Outside of White Sands

Click on the picture above to enlarge

I hadn’t seen any oryx since 1963, when I photographed these East African Oryx in Somalia:

My First Oryx

My First Oryx

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The next morning the gate was open. In fact, Russ arranged for us to get in at 6 a.m., well before sunrise, so we could set up on the dunes. We were the only people there.

My next post will include some of those scenes. But, meanwhile, here are three more shots I like that don’t fit there.

One Corner of the Adobe Building that Houses the Visitor Center

One Corner of the Adobe Building that Houses the Visitor Center

Click on the picture above to enlarge
Ready for the Photo Shoot (Photo by Russ)

Ready for the Photo Shoot (Photo by Russ)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
Sliding is Sometimes the Speedy Way Down a Dune (Photo by Jamie)

Sliding is Sometimes the Speedy Way Down a Dune (Photo by Jamie)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Seeing the oryx was lucky. And our luck held until the end of the trip.

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Posted in: New Mexico

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chris Alexander // Jan 1, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Nice article. I live in NM, and as many times as I’ve been to White Sands (try going for the annual balloon fiesta; I belive it’s this month, January), I’ve never seen Orxy there. Great shots. Thanks.

  • 2 Patricia Canty // Jan 2, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Many years ago when I lived in El Paso TX we took our children and a plastic garbage lid to White Sands to sled on the “sand”. Wonderful place.

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