Dean M. Chriss
San Andres Mountains, Gypsum Dunefield, and Snow
(Click image to enlarge)
This image was captured on a very unusual morning. We watched the full moon in a partial lunar eclipse emerge from below a deck of high clouds before it dipped behind the
San Andres Mountains. Shortly thereafter the clouds began to disintegrate allowing the sun to illuminate the foreground
gypsum dunes while the distant mountains remained dark. Blowing gypsum dust
softens and partially obscures the lower part of the mountains and the most
distant dunes. This worst of this gypsum dust and sand storm was fortunately
confined to an area closer to the mountains than my location. Several days earlier a severe winter storm left drifts of snow
lingering among the dunes.
Sunlight passing through high altitude gypsum dust created a dull pink tone in
the sky that lasted well beyond the sunrise. These conditions combined to
create an odd and otherworldly scene with lighting I have never seen before or since.
Another photograph captured a little later on the same morning can be seen
Rain in the San Andres Mountains dissolves gypsum and washes it down to the
basin floor. The water settles on the basin floor at its lowest point,
called Lake Lucero. As the lake evaporates it leaves behind gypsum in
crystalline form. The smaller crystals are picked up by the wind and
deposited in the world's largest gypsum dunefield.