2014, Alamosa, Canon, Colorado, F-Stop Gear, February, Gitzo, Great Sand Dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, LEE Filters, Mosca, Mountain Hardwear, Really Right Stuff, San Luis Valley, Sangre de Cristo's, Snow, USKestrel, USKestrel Photography
Great Sand Dunes National Park! When you think of this national park, the first image you conjure up is sand…lots and lots of sand.
Living six hours away offers plenty of opportunities to visit and explore the park. For this trip, I started planning in late December 2013 and had a fairly decent idea of what & where I wanted to capture. Winter trips to Great Sand Dunes National Park are fantastic for photography for a number of reasons, mainly the sand is much easier to trek.
During my Indian Peaks Wilderness trek in mid-January, I asked my hiking buddy if he was interested in going along on my trip to Great Sand Dunes NP. He said he would check availability with his better half and get back to me. A few days later, we were in full road-trip mode! The plan was to meet at his house in Bailey, CO around 11:30am, pack up his gear and head towards the dunes, arriving there around 3:30pm. This would give us enough time to trek to our 1st location and capture a sunset shot and perhaps a few others along the way.
A week before the trip, Colorado started getting snow on and off in the central and northern mountain areas. Forecasts for the Sand Dunes area continued to show no snow nor any significant weather. Continuing to watch the forecast, we both felt like this was going to be an awesome road-trip!
One day before the trip, snow started falling and travel to the dunes was starting to look a bit ugly, but growing up in CO, a little snow on the roads was not going to stop this trip from taking place…the travel may be a bit slow, but we’d make it to our destination!
Friday came and we met, packed up the gear, then headed down the road. Took a bit longer to get there than I’d have liked, but we managed to arrive on Friday afternoon with enough time to do a little trekking and shoot some pictures. Unfortunately, clouds obscured the sun and sunset shots were not to be this time.
We headed back to my truck, loaded our gear and headed to the hotel in Alamosa.
Over dinner, we discussed the game-plan for the morning. Since Great Sand Dunes NP is not really a “sunrise” location, especially in the Winter months, we chose to get up and be on the road by 6:30am or so. This would get us to the park shortly after sunrise, allowing the morning light to give us some decent light & shadows on the dunes!
After breakfast, we realized a couple of things; first, it was a bit chilly out (+5F) but that wasn’t too bad. Second, it appeared that a bit of snow had fallen overnight in Alamosa (<1″, but still, snow). Onward we went…and 35 minutes later we had our first view of the dunes this morning. We got pretty excited as the dunes had a little snow in the valleys, but the sand still plenty visible. Ten minutes later, we were parked and starting to gear up!
Started trekking out across the riverbed and out in the dunes. A light snow started to fall, which caused us to wonder what our morning’s photography would capture. The more we trekked, the less our light was working for us. After an hour, the snow was coming down harder and harder. We both made the decision to return to my truck, head back to the hotel to check the weather maps and explore options.
A review of the weather maps showed that by early afternoon, the weather front should be beyond the sand dunes and we should be able to go back and do some photography. So, what to do in the interim? We thought about ghost towns, but the two in the area (~1 hr away) are in locations that are really only accessible in summer months…so that was out.
My hiking buddy did find an old relic church in Las Mesitas, CO that has some potential, so we opted to head there and check it out. While it looked like there was some potential in the pictures online, this place would be much better photographed in the summer months.
Once we were satisfied with the church, we headed back to the hotel for one last weather check…then headed to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with something rather unusual, but absolutely spectacular…a blanket of snow on the dunes! Geared up and headed out into the dunes, a few final flurries as we trekked on seeking our photo location du jour (original planned locations were not going to happen given the weather [safety first!!]).
We were spoiled beyond belief; the opportunities were endless! As much as we wanted to stay, sunset photography was not going to happen, yet again, but we had captured a lot of magnificent images! My images from this trip can be seen in my web-gallery, starting at image#10: