Favorite Locations Revisited: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Photographing sunset on High Dune, Geat Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Photographing sunset on High Dune in November, Geat Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Introduction to Favorite Locations.

“If it is worth shooting once, it is worth shooting multiple times.”  I’ve abided by this principle since I started photography 25 years ago and it is something I stress in my workshops.   I shake my head in disbelief when I see photographers shooting out the window of a moving car!  Years ago a fellow paddler who did a 12 day raft trip down the Grand Canyon said that she’d “seen it” and there was no need to go back.   I’ve done multiple trips there ranging 7-day hikes to a 29 day river trip and the Grand NEVER grows old. The “been there, shot that” attitude is a creativity killer!

Like most photographers there are many places I’ll only go to once and come back with decent shots.  That will continue.  But, revisiting places multiple times is more rewarding when I learn the light and discover new compositions.  Ultimately this leads to better and more creative images.  I think photographers should have “binders full of locations” to revisit. These places don’t always have to be the most iconic or most popular.  Seek out places perhaps close to home, where compelling compositions are not immediately obvious but with time and study, great images emerge.

Runner on Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Fitness athlete and competitor training on sand dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Digital photography makes this more exciting to do.  It’s rewarding to go back to locations I shot years ago on film or with my original 1Ds and re-shoot stuff with twice as many pixels, with new updated or new lenses, and with more capable and portable lighting equipment.   Besides the updated gear, going back with more knowledge and creativity is icing on the cake.  Never get complacent with your photography.

FAVORITE PLACES REVISITED:  Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

 

Running down sand dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Hiker unning down High Dune at sunset in November
, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

The Sand Dunes are real easy to get to, like amazingly easy to cruise to on wide open, mostly straight, flat highway 160 in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado.   I love the imposing views of the Sangre de Cristo as you get ever closer to the park.  There are great vistas and panoramic image possibilities of the dunes and the mountains in the background near the park boundary several miles south of the entrance booth.

You gotta get ON the dunes to really experience the feel and dynamic light that goes on here.  Climb up to High Dune which is about 45 minutes from the parking lot carrying gear, and a 650’ climb.   Great ops abound from near the top and beyond in virtually all directions with the ever changing play of light and shadow on the dunes.

hikers-on-great-sand-dunes-colorado

Hikers near High Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado and Sangre de Cristo Mountains

I consider the dunes to be a “seasonless” place visually.  This is a good thing.  Except for snow, the dunes are similar color year round.  There is a splash of summer and fall color along Medano Creek.  I like coming here in the early winter when fall color is gone and winter photography in the Rockies isn’t really optimal yet.

As expected, most visitors go here in summer and it can get crowded even into fall.  That’s why I prefer to go in winter. Yes, the place is COLD.  After all, you are at about 8400’ and you can get blizzards into May.  There are several reasons why I feel winter is better.  First, the crowds are gone, meaning less tracks.  The dunes are firmer to walk on, especially if there has been recent moisture that freezes in the sand.  Mostly, the light is better since it is lower in the southern sky.  Just bring layers and keep your gear protected from the sand.

If you are lucky enough to be there after a fresh snow count your blessings.  I bring a headlamp because I’m usually getting back near dark but rarely use it.  Even 20 minutes after sunset to catch some color in the clouds if I’m lucky enough, it is fun to blast straight down the dunes at a run.  I usually make it back to the parking lot before I need to rely on my headlamp to see.

hiker with headlamp at dusk on Great Sand Dunes