#findyourpark | Great Sand Dunes

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.

ARS_CO_150728_3077-Pano

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.

ARS_CO_150728_3116

ARS_CO_150728_3096

ARS_CO_150728_3106

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.

ARS_CO_150728_3129

ARS_CO_150728_4962

ARS_CO_150729_3348

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.

ARS_CO_150729_5004

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.

ARS_CO_150729_3364

ARS_CO_150729_3374

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…

ARS_CO_150728_3142

ARS_CO_150728_3143

ARS_CO_150728_3240

ARS_CO_150728_3310

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!

— andrew


 
Take your photography to the next level… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015