Great Sand Dunes in Colorado

I recently went to the Great Sand Dunes for 3 days and 2 nights for my first photo op in a long time. It was a good and challenging experience.

The Great Sand Dunes dune field is about a 5 x 6 mile semi-square. The Dunes reach a peak of over 600 feet above the valley floor, making them the highest sand dunes in North America. There is a surrounding 167 square mile area of sand called the sand field, which at present is stabilized by vegetation. Because of the vegetation stabilizing the land, the Dunes are not growing for lack of new sand being blown into them. Interestingly the smaller dunes along the south edge of the Dunes are growing due to sand brought down from the mountains by Medano Creek.

Access to the Park only goes to the southeast corner of the dunes. From there you can go along the east side of the Dunes along a VERY sandy and high clearance 4WD road. Or you can walk into the Dunes. You can hike 6+ miles into the Dunes from a road out of Crestone to the north, but you will need a permit to camp. You can also hike 2-8 miles along the north edge of the Dunes off a trail from the Medano Pass road. As should be clear, there is much of the Great Sand Dunes National Park that is never or rarely seen.

The morning I left there was a fellow in a older model Lexus totally mired and stuck in one of the deep sand portions of the east-side Medano Pass road. What made it worse was that it had rained most of the afternoon before, and the sand was soft and gooshy. It took several of us to get him out. So don’t be that guy or gal, who goes beyond the Point of No Return on the Medano Pass road without a high-clearance 4WD vehicle.

There is really only one simple and easy place to photograph the Dunes, and that is from the Visitors’ Center. There’s a large north-facing porch that provides a very nice view of the Dunes. Other than that site, you must walk into or along the edge of the Dunes for your photography. A lot of people go the the picnic area next to Medano Creek to walk up the Dunes. This turnoff is well marked about 1/4 mile past the Visitors Center. After that there is only the Pinon Flats Campground and the Medano Pass 4WD road. Unless you want to walk into or up to the Dunes, just go to the Visitors Center to take your pictures.

Sand walking is as much fun as snow-shoeing in 3 feet of fresh powder. Pictures of the Dunes from other than the Visitors Center and Picnic area near Medano Creek are uncommon. So not being one to be common, I waltzed into the Dunes from the Sand Pit pull off on the southeastern edge and climbed up to a ridge to see what the sunset would bring. I stayed there for 1 1/2 hours in an easterly sandstorm, which made the dunes look eerily smooth. I finally walked out after sunset and hoped I had gotten some good shots for all my efforts.

This gallery is from the first evening shoot on this three-day adventure. There will be more to come as this photo op turned out to be surprisingly productive.

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