Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Desert views

with 35 comments

Four years ago today we drove across the southern California desert on our way to Tucson. In the picture above of the Salton Sea, mist made the mountains beyond the western shore unclear, and it’s also unclear to me what range it is (perhaps the Borrego Mountains). The second picture comes to you from along Interstate 8. A lot of the dunes there allow recreational vehicles, and as a result I couldn’t take pictures in many of the places I wanted to because vehicle tracks marred the scene. While the dunes below do show a slight amount of disturbance, I hope you’ll still find this panorama pleasant.

But if you insist on arenaceous purity and no tracks, I’ll backtrack two weeks to October 23rd of 2016, when we stopped at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah. Though it also allows recreational vehicles, we stayed long enough for me to wander around and find undisturbed parts of the dunes to photograph.

And here’s a relevant quotation for today: “J’ai toujours aimé le désert. On s’assoit sur une dune de sable. On ne voit rien. On n’entend rien. Et cependant quelque chose rayonne en silence….” “I’ve always loved the desert. You sit down on a sand dune. You see nothing. You hear nothing. And yet something glows in silence….” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le petit prince, The Little Prince.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 6, 2020 at 4:37 AM

35 Responses

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  1. I have driven to Tucson too! And I was amazed at seeing the sand dunes as I had not heard about them before going there. I didn’t capture such a wonderful shot as you though.


    November 6, 2020 at 5:05 AM

    • Ah, I see you posted a comment on my post about the sand dunes, and that I turned off before Tucson to head up to Phoenix! (Had to go back to my post to check as I began to doubt myself whether these were the same dunes).


      November 6, 2020 at 5:15 AM

      • It’s hard to remember all the posts we’ve seen and commented on, and what we’ve said in those comments. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes turned out to be a great place, one I’d never heard of before the 2016 trip. I hope we’ll both get another chance to visit the super-scenic region that includes Arizona and Utah.

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 6, 2020 at 7:17 AM

      • Now I’m curious. Can you provide a link to that earlier comment?

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 6, 2020 at 7:28 AM

  2. These are all wonderful images, but I’m mostly drawn to the first one. It’s the mist that truly gives it appeal for me! I think it must be fairly difficult to capture shots where there are no disturbances (mainly tracks) in sand dunes anywhere. I’m curious how you protect your camera and lenses from the sand?


    November 6, 2020 at 6:35 AM

    • I haven’t had a lot of experience photographing sand dunes, so the problem hasn’t come up much. The Canon body and L-series lenses I use are said to have a good level of sealing against water and grit, but I wouldn’t push my luck. I do remember turning around occasionally and holding the camera against my body when a gust of wind blew toward me and I wanted to shelter the equipment from blowing sand. The biggest challenge is changing lenses out there when the wind is blowing; I sure wouldn’t want any sand to get inside the camera. If necessary, I’d go back to where I’d parked and change lenses inside my car.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2020 at 7:26 AM

      • I learned my lesson about changing lenses in a vehicle the year I was doing a niece’s senior pictures on top of Mt. Scott, near Lawton. While looking at her photos later on my desktop, I saw bits of debris that had never been in images before. It had been a windy day during the photo shoot. Unfortunately, the camera repair experts could not remove two of the larger specks. That camera is long gone, and I’m much more careful with my equipment.


        November 6, 2020 at 7:32 AM

        • I’m sorry you learned that lesson the hard way, at the expense of a compromised sensor. I almost always spend at least a little time removing dust spots from my images. The smaller the aperture I use, the more dust spots show up. With respect to that, cameras with permanently attached lenses do have an advantage over interchangeable-lens systems.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 6, 2020 at 7:55 AM

  3. The purity of a dune undisturbed by recreational vehicles is what inspired Saint-Exupéry to write these profound words. I am so glad you were able to find such a dune in your travels, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    November 6, 2020 at 8:27 AM

    • If I’d had more time to walk around in the places we passed or stopped at, or if I’d been able to visit at less touristy times of the year, I’m pretty sure I could’ve found more undisturbed areas. One good thing about dunes is that if they’re left alone for a little while the wind-blown sand covers up footprints and vehicle tracks.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2020 at 9:27 AM

  4. Beautiful images, Steve!


    November 6, 2020 at 12:55 PM

  5. All three are real treats for the desert-starved eye. As you know, New Zealand has examples of all the world’s climates except true desert. I grew up in southeastern Michigan and studied in Ohio and Germany, and chances to see real desert had to wait until I was a program auditor for USDA. My most treasured ones are the Sonoran, the Negev, and the Simpson in Australia. Some day I hope to have the chance to get into Australia’s Nullarbor (pronounced nulla-bore) Plain.


    November 6, 2020 at 7:04 PM

    • The places shown in the first two pictures are in one of your treasured deserts, the Sonoran, and you may well have visited the Salton Sea. I’d gladly tour the other two in your list if circumstances ever allow.

      I don’t think I knew that you grew up in southeastern Michigan. The first time I ever saw that state was between semesters in my senior year of college, in January 1967, when I went to visit a friend at Michigan State University. I returned that summer, when “Light My Fire” was the most popular song and Detroit was burning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2020 at 9:19 PM

  6. Nice trio, Steve. Horizons!

    Eliza Waters

    November 6, 2020 at 8:53 PM

  7. Your last photo’s my favorite, both because of its simplicity, and for the memories of Kansas it evokes. One is of the wonderful Tallgrass Express song, “Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky,” and the other is of the abstract photos I made of the ‘dunes’ of multi-colored milo against the sky. It’s interesting that abstraction can reveal relationships among such different environments.


    November 7, 2020 at 9:23 AM

    • A delight of abstraction is that it easily crosses realms, as when you spoke of ‘dunes’ of multi-colored milo.

      I’m as fond of the third view as you are (eve if for me it has no Kansas associations). I rediscovered it in my archive when I was putting together the posts you’ve been seeing that commemorate 2016 southwestern trip.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2020 at 7:15 PM

  8. Another beautiful trip down memory lane. Though I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that first view of the Salton Sea, I do remember the sand dunes. We were on a trip from Arizona to San Diego, my first and only time in California, and I remember being surprised by the sand dunes.

    Todd Henson

    November 7, 2020 at 1:42 PM

    • Growing up on Long Island, for a long time the only sand dunes I knew were the ones along ocean beaches. Is that the same reason you were surprised to see dunes in the desert?

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2020 at 7:19 PM

      • Yes, same reason. We were living in Arizona, so I was used to what I knew of as desert and thought sand dune deserts were only in other countries. At that point I had no idea we had some here in the States. It was a great way of awakening me to the fact there were many, MANY things I still haven’t seen in my own country.

        Todd Henson

        November 8, 2020 at 5:54 AM

        • I know that feeling of so much left to see in the United States, and naturally even more in other countries. Two American states remain for me to set foot in: Alaska and North Dakota.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 8, 2020 at 6:09 AM

          • Somewhere I have a map that I made up as I grew up, coloring in each state I passed through. There aren’t a lot I haven’t been to, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than two. North Dakota would be one, though Alaska is where I was born. 🙂

            Todd Henson

            November 8, 2020 at 5:52 PM

  9. The Saint-Exupery quote describes the best of the desert, those times when you hear the stillness ringing. I love your Salton Sea photo and the dunes photo below it. A terrific pair, Steve!


    November 11, 2020 at 6:41 PM

  10. Wonderful quote .. glows in silence! Amazing images Steve. Thanks for sharing


    November 13, 2020 at 1:41 AM

  11. Very nice … the last one stands out for me.


    November 13, 2020 at 10:55 AM

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