I’m currently working on a project photographing the giant migratory sand dunes of North Carolina. These migratory dunes were created thousands of years ago when the elevation of these islands began to build up from the onslaught of giant hurricanes and northeasters. As I have written about before on here, as well as in an upcoming article for Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine (September 2010), these barrier islands migrate in response to rising sea levels. Part of this process is through the building up of sand via overwash. Many people think that when storms ravage these islands that sand is eroded away. The sand doesn’t disappear however, its just moved around. Take Hurricane Isabel for instance, when the storm surge overwashed the village of Hatteras, it deposited nearly 2 meters of sand (7 feet) across the town!
As overwash continues throughout the centuries from the large storms, sand continues to build. Now, based upon the geographical orientation of the barrier islands, all of this sand can form giant sand dunes. The northern half of the Outer Banks for instance runs from northwest to southeast. The prevailing winds here in turn are northeast and southwest. This means that sand is constantly being blown back and forth across the island. If the island was north to south, such as Core Banks, than these giant dunes could not form as sand would constantly be blown down the island and spread out. The Outer Banks with their orientation in such a way so as to constantly pick up incoming sand from the beach therefore are perfectly positioned to build large sand dunes such as Jockey’s Ridge and Penny’s Hill. Shackleford Banks is another island with such an orientation and therefore contains several large dunes. Shackleford however is positioned along a northwest to southeast axis meaning that the prevailing northeastern winds build up sand from the backside, while the southwest winds push it inward from the beach.
These sand dunes in turn migrate, just like the islands themselves do. With all of that wind, sand is constantly blowing one direction or the other. Considering the predominant wind throughout most of the year is northeast, these dunes are slowly moving in a southwesterly direction overtaking anything that comes in their path. Oh, and when I say anything, I mean anything. Were talking forests, houses, businesses, and as can be seen from the east end of Jockey’s Ridge State Park near the road, miniature golf courses as well. Ever wonder what that castle is sticking up out of the sand dune? Its whats finally being exposed of a miniature golf course that was buried by the shifting sands decades ago!
As for photography, one of the great things about sand is that it is really sexy. I mean sure, its abrasive, it gets in every nook and cranny of your house and every crevice on your body that abrasive things should never be, but damn if its not fun to shoot. With each gust of wind, the landscape has the potential to change. It build up and tears down. Runnels, ridges, gullies, dunes . . . the features are endless. In order to photograph sand you must embark upon a visual exploration. Really, that sums up landscape photography as a whole, but sand truly exemplifies this concept the best in my opinion. One minute you will be looking at a grand landscape, the next – macro work of sand formations at your feet. The possibilities are endless for a photographer with artistic vision.
As I said, this is an on going project I am working that may potentially become a book. These are just a few of the photos that I made this morning.