A French Couple’s Love for the American West Ends in Tragedy
I live about 15 minutes from White Sands. I was heartbroken when I saw this news in the local paper. I know how beautiful and how dangerous white sands is. I spent a year photographing white sands for a 365 blog. The best images from the blog ended up in my book I published on white sands.
The Alkali Flat Trail is by far my favorite place in the monument. I spent most of my time hiking the trail in my quest to make new images. You wouldn’t think that miles and miles of white sand could produce enough diversity to complete a 365 blog. That was the premise and driving factor of the blog. I wanted to push myself and force a change in my perspective. The project was a turning point in my work.
I can think of two incidents where I found myself in trouble at white sands. The first time was midsummer and midday. Huge mistake. I had both of my kids with me. We had been in Las Cruces, on the way home I wanted to make a quick stop at the sands to make a couple of images. We went to the nature trail. We didn’t walk very far from the parking lot. There is a tree growing out of the sand that I wanted to show my kids. We found the tree, I even made an image of my daughter standing under the tree. I love that image, it hangs in my studio. On the way back to the car I started to get overheated, lightheaded, and extremely tired. This worried me because I know how fast heat exhaustion and heat stroke can happen. Luckily, neither one of my kids showed signs of heat related illness. I didn’t have water with me because it was just a quick walk. When we got to the car I sat for a while with the air conditioning on high. I checked the mirror and noticed that my skin was red and blotchy from being so overheated.
The second time I found myself in over my head was out on the alkali flat trail. I hiked out a few miles. I frequently strayed from the marked trail. I would use certain points on the mountains to keep track of direction. When I started to tire I headed back in the direction of the parking lot where I was parked. I walked a long time, longer than I should have. I was worried I was lost. I knew that I was headed in the right general direction and if I kept going I would find the road. If I could find the road I would be able to find my car. There was a news story around that time about a tourist that got lost in the sands. He was able to call for help. He was rescued by an Army helicopter out of El Paso. I didn’t want to end up in a similar news story. Although “Local Photographer Rescued From White Sands” would have been a great way to get publicity for my blog and eventual book, I didn’t want to have that kind of attention. When I found the road I discover I had overshot my car by about a mile. I made it back safely.
Both of these incidents could have had very different and very tragic endings. Do your research before you trek out into the desert. Bring water. Bring snacks. Bring a cell phone. Please don’t go midday.