PAM DORNER HAS ALWAYS ENJOYED the outdoors, from days spent playing in the creek near her childhood home in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains to walking the Río Grande bosque across from her house in Rio Rancho. “I just love exploring and finding things,” she says.

Photography, well, that was almost an excuse. A mother of two boys, Dorner only picked up a camera after her eldest had graduated from Sandia Preparatory School, in 2013. “It was time to find something for me,” she recalls.

But when Dorner’s sister-in-law, Denise, gave her a used Canon EOS 6D in an attempt to gain a photography companion, she was hooked. Dorner was continually enthralled by the Sandía Mountains at sunrise, coyotes hunting along the river, and sandhill cranes returning from the fields at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, but photography heightened those experiences. “Being able to capture those magical moments and translate them to someone else is so special,” says Dorner, whose images earned the grand prize, as well as a first place and an honorable mention in our 23rd annual New Mexico Magazine Photography Contest.

For Golden Feather, Dorner spent the summer—every morning before dawn, every night around sunset—observing a family of great horned owls near her home. “Their journey was just so interesting to me,” she says.

Always cautious not to interfere with their lives, Dorner watched as the male anxiously awaited the female to join him on their evening hunts, the female protecting the fledglings as they left the nest, and the young owls bonding when their parents were away. One night, the mother landed on a wood pile near where her partner was perched—a different behavior that caught Dorner’s attention. For a while, nothing happened. Then, just as it was getting dark, the female stretched and took off. “She flew off, and that feather left at the same time,” Dorner says. “I just loved that, as the last bit of light was hitting her and hitting the feather.”

For "Golden Feather," Dorner spent the summer—every morning before dawn, every night around sunset—observing a family of great horned owls near her home.


Golden Feather, Pam Dorner

Even in a summer of watching and waiting, everything came together in one beautifully enchanting instant. You can find similarly captivating moments in these pages: a winter sunset in Taos, a wedding celebration at Jemez Pueblo, and a storm rolling through Tucumcari.

This year’s contest attracted more than 1,800 submissions from 400-plus amateur photographers (those who earn no more than 50 percent of their income through photography). Choosing the best of the best was a challenge. Five judges blind-selected 20 top photos each in the six categories. Over a full day, those were narrowed to a group of finalists, which were then ranked by each judge. The top overall scores determined the winners, with individual photographers allowed to place only once per category.

The 28 honorees will be featured at the Tularosa Basin Gallery of Photography, in Carrizozo. More than 125 online votes determined Cosetta Lewis’s Folklorico, a portrait of her daughter Sophia dressed in traditional attire, as the People’s Choice Award winner. Thanks to our sponsors, the winners also receive some fantastic prizes.

Bryce Turner, contest judge and creative director for the New Mexico Tourism Department, is surprised every year by the unique perspectives reflected in the submissions. “I feel like I always learn something new, or see something I thought I knew, in a fresh light.”

Similarly, Dorner continues to be awed by the land, its creatures, and the connection she feels with them here in New Mexico. “Photography gives me a reason to be out in nature and travel the state,” she says. “There’s just so much beauty in the land. My heart’s here.”


For the eighth consecutive year, Tularosa Basin Gallery of Photography, in Carrizozo, will host an exhibit featuring the winners. The opening weekend, January 27-28, includes artist appearances and refreshments. As the largest photo gallery in the state, Tularosa Basin Gallery features the work of more than 40 New Mexico photographers Friday through Sunday and by appointment.