Editor's Note: This is the second of eight automotive fantasies from our November 2013 print issue. We'll be publishing the fantasies over the next few weeks on automobilemag.com. Look for the issue on newsstands now or download our iPad issue to read them all.
There's no other place on earth where you can find the combination of natural elements that created this fantasy photograph. We're in the White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico, where high mountain ranges, extreme temperature variation, wind, an elevated water table, and gypsum rock formations have created an expanse of pure white sand that stretches across some 275 square miles.
Our transport is a 2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 convertible, and through its windshield the scenery looks like Alaska in winter. Everything is white. My eyes tell me: "Snow -- prepare for icy conditions." I've even applied the brakes to test the grip.
The dashboard temperature gauge tells a different story, indicating 131 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the hottest late June in years. But, still, 131 degrees?
Stepping out of the Benz's air-conditioned, cooled leather is like walking into a pizza oven. Without protection from the tinted windshield, the intense reflected sunlight burns your retinas. Strong sunglasses are essential. The camera's light meter reports levels of brightness seen only on snow-covered ski slopes.
White Sands National Monument was formed by extremes and survives because of them, making this 800-mile one-way trip worthwhile. This is the world's largest gypsum dune field, a photographer's dream with giant waves of alabaster sand as far as the eye can see bordered by mountains and endless skies.
The sands lie at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert. Elevation ranges from 3890 feet to 4116 feet. The region has been featured in many films, including King Solomon's Mines (1950) and the first two movies in the Transformers series (2007 and 2009).
Sunset turns the sky light pink, and the wind moves the sand across the desert floor like waves on an ocean. It's a truly magical site.