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Great Sand Dunes National Park

Updated: May 24

The Great Sand Dunes is a special place for a number of reasons. The least of which is the wind. It is perhaps the driving force behind why the dunes exist, but it also makes for a rather unpleasant visit at times. Especially in April when it's the windiest.

The area is immensely diverse. Surrounding the arid dry sand dunes are the snow-capped mountains to the west, flat open plains to the east, and the seasonal Medano river weaving its way through all three.

The sand dunes are quite high, some of which approach 1,000 feet. The young and fit are surely capable of climbing them, but not without struggle.

I did so just once, and won't do it again! The wind blows sand into everything, including camera bags. Some of my non-prime lenses still remind me of what a bad idea it was, as they occasionally make a grinding noise as I twist the focal length.

So now I prefer to remain in the valley along the Medano River. While still sandy, it's nowhere near as bad as climbing the dunes. I also enjoy finding the stick, rocks and other things laying atop the sand.

The wind not only blows sand, but it also stirs up dust which causes the sky to be quite hazy at times. It's rare when the sky is clear and the wind isn't blowing. But on such occasions, there are some neat vantage points along the river looking back towards the snow-caped mountains.

The water is quite cold as it is fresh snow melt that hasn't had time to warm. It's probably just a few degrees above freezing. It doesn't take long for feet and toes to numb. But it's worth the effort and discomfort to get some good photo shots during the evening.

As you move east, the sand dunes fade into the plains. Or as a matter of perspective, one might say this is where the begin.

It's a battlefield between the Medano River transporting the sand into the valley, and the wind pushing it back. A stalemate that has lasted millions of years.

What's hard to gauge is the size and coverage of the battlefield. There aren't just a few dunes. There are 233 square miles of national park lands, most of which are the sand dunes.

Capturing the entirety of the scene almost requires a drone. But there are a couple good peaks one can climb to get a sense of their vastness.

I camped at the Dunes in early May of 2023 looking for a different perspective. As usual in the spring months, the wind can be quite ferocious. Makes for horrible photography conditions, but it does create wonderful textures and erases footprints left behind.

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