First came an eerie noise.
Then, came a voice, about 100 yards away: “Did you hear the coyote?”
Then, came many other noises, obviously not from coyotes.
These were humans. Howling. They were trying to imitate wolves, or coyotes, or something. Trying and failing.
The result was hilarious.
Picture White Sands National Park, during a full moon, and dozens of people screaming and howling. It’s dark, but when that full moon rises over the white gypsum dunes, it sometimes gets bright enough you can read a book. (I know; I did it once.) Standing atop one dune, you can see – and hear -- figures of humans and dogs atop other dunes. If you squint your eyes, it looks like we’re all dancing in the moonlight.
This was the scene June 14.
I’ve been going to Full Moon Nights at White Sands since 1995, and that’s my first time experiencing the group howl.
At first, it seemed a little silly. As it continued, it seemed a little weird. Then, as it kept on, it became surprising. This went on for maybe six or seven minutes, but it seemed like a half hour. I couldn’t believe the way it sustained.
In the moment, I was marveling. Later, I began thinking of the possible benefits of this group howl.
For one thing, it was a great de-stresser. Simply being among the white sands is a de-stresser in the first place, but the howl brought a new element.
On the June Full Moon Night, the sky was extra spectacular with its cloud formations during sunset and moonrise. Our state was still on fire, a troubling and terrifying thing. The effect of the smoke and fire on the sky was other-worldly. As the sun slid toward the horizon, it went through the smoke haze and created a bright orange-y sky. The sun itself was muted, but still dazzling. Dancing above the San Andres Mountains, the whole scene looked as if it were from a different planet.
I hope some creative New Mexico filmmakers were out getting footage for a science fiction movie. Those visuals made for a bizarrely surreal scene and mood.
The Great Group Howl, though, was more than just a de-stresser. The longer it went on, the more it felt like a catharsis.
Even though the temperatures broke 100 degrees again that night, by moonrise they were back in the 70s. Everyone was feeling fresh, feeling good and feeling the effects of two-plus years of Covid chaos. Letting out those howls felt like freedom, like escape, like healing, like birth, or even a re-birth.
The noisy yells may have seemed strange or annoying to some people but, compared to some of the angry and evil ways people have responded to the pressures of the last couple of years, howling at the moon seems downright healthy.
Who’s up for an encore?
There are four more Full Moon Nights at White Sands in 2022.
The next one is Wednesday, July 13. I suggest practicing by listening to some old rhythm and blues by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Howlin’ Wolf.
Richard Coltharp is publisher of Desert Exposure. He believes the only way to experience the gypsum dunes of White Sands is barefoot. Leave those shoes and socks in the car.