I’ve been visiting so many National Parks lately that I thought it would be a fun idea to feature a park every quarter or so. And though I have many on my list that I know much better than this one, I want to start with this smaller, more obscure destination: Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in southern Colorado.
It’s a tad bit out of the way from most routes you might be traveling, but the extra hour or two driving is worth the views and activities. Nestled in the San Luis Valley, your closest major airport is Colorado Springs, but there are several small, regional airports nearby as well.
Driving in from the south, you may be thinking to yourself, “Where is this grand landscape already?” It’s quite unassuming, until… out of nowhere… the massive Sangre De Christos mountains rise up. And then the dunes become visible too.
I’m clearly approaching this from a photographer’s perspective, so I can give you a good many reasons to visit with your camera, but this park offers so much more. If you like backpacking, 4×4 driving, swimming, dune surfing, hiking, camping, nature programs, star gazing, etc., you are in for a treat! For more info on all of that, visit the official website.
For the photophiles out there, this park does not disappoint. Disclaimer: I have only been twice and both stops at the park were honestly an afterthought. So I have lots more to explore. However, from what I did see, there is great potential. From the main road heading in to the park several shots jump out with the amazing views of the Sangres in the background, the tallest dunes in North America stacked in front, and Serengeti-style plains with sparse vegetation in the foreground. Wildflowers bloom in varieties from Spring until late Summer, and wildlife roams freely in view. So there are many opportunities right off the road at sunset and sunrise.
As you travel in further, and even hike the dunes some, new opportunities arise. Some that you truly cannot find anywhere else in the U.S. “Fording” Medano Creek is the first great shot you can play around with after you park at the dunes and begin to explore. I love the contrast of the parched dunes, rising mountains and the cool, clear running water.
Often, you can get shots of active people enjoying all that nature has to offer… Not a ton on my quick trips, but I know dune surfing is really popular here and even swimming, when the creek runs high.
There are several trails that take you up into the sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems, so if mountains are your thing, you’ll be whistling all the way up to the alpine lakes and scree slopes.
There are all sorts of little gems to find here that make for wonderful foreground elements. And when the weather hits, it can really put on a show! I lucked out and caught one of the most spectacular sunsets of my entire three week road trip on my last night at Great Sand Dunes…
This park is relatively small, but it has been added to my list of ‘must sees’ because of the amazing contrasts found in this spectacular landscape. There’s really so much more to explore with this park, so I hope this is an encouragement to you and me both to get out there!
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