Peace and Quiet and Moonlight at Little Sahara

My friend and shooting partner Jim swore that there would be unsullied dunes at Little Sahara Recreation Area. I was skeptical. After all, the area is to ATVers and dirt bikers what the John Muir Trail is to hikers. Only noisier, dustier and with a lot of cheap beer flowing. We drove through encampments of ORVers festooned with pennants, surrounded by giant campers like some motorized version of covered wagons or mechanized medieval villages. With kids and kid-like adults ripping around on all manner of quads, I felt like I was visiting the set of a Mad Max remake. As I said, I was skeptical. We were there to shoot the so-called ‘supermoon’ and any possibility of finding peace and quiet, much less un-tracked and un-trashed dunes, seemed as remote as the moon itself.

After driving through several districts and finding nothing but what I expected — the chaotic spider-webbing of trails created by unrestrained ATVism — Jim said that he knew of some dunes, untouched. True to his word, they were. Why, I am not sure. I would like to think that there was an unconscious decision on the part of the wheeled visitors to leave one area undefiled. More likely, it was too far from the main camping areas. Regardless, for us, despite the angry and ever-present buzz of ATVs in the the distance, it was a bit of sandy heaven.  

We were there a couple hours before sunset, and moonrise, so going our separate ways, we wandered the dunes. The ripples and patterns and side-lit forms created wonderful compositional elements. And though there may be some repetition, I never get tired of working these subjects. The wind began to pick up and a constant dance of sand coursed along the top of the ripples and off of the leeward sides of the steep dunes. Fortunately the wind was low and as long as I did not change any lenses, my cameras would be unaffected by the blowing particles. These shots, especially the ones captured in infrared, I am quite happy with.

As the shadows grew, I began scouting a location for shooting the moon as it rose. I had two tripods and two conventional light (ie, non-infrared) camera bodies, one mounted with a super wide and the other with a telephoto lens. I found a nice dune trough out of the wind and set up and waited. And waited. And some more. What I had not counted on was the moon rising beyond the distant mountains. The sun was well set and there was little ambient light left by the time the huge orb of a moon peaked over the mountains. I shot away but it was clear that the extreme differences in lighting between a very bright moon and a very dark foreground were wreaking havoc on my attempts. In post-processing I was able to “manufacture” one image by compositing a properly exposed moon into a more or less properly exposed foreground. Not ideal.

Of more interest, was the long-exposure shooting we did by moonlight. The sand was still blowing and the super bright ‘supermoon’ cast an ethereal light so that exposures of 100 seconds or so created surreal, seemingly submerged, sandscapes. We came for the moon and in the end she made a gift of her light.

As we departed late that evening, the hornet’s buzz of a few diehard midnight riders, gave way to the pleasing sigh of wind-born, moonlit sand.

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