Until Next Time

During our entire stay at Great Sand Dunes National Park we had late-day clouds & sprinkles move in each day.  The bad part about that was that the clouds rolled in right around the prime-time for afternoon shadow madness on the dune field.  The good part about that was that if the skies cleared just enough to let some sun through, it setup things up for some pretty sunsets.

The first two nights the most spectacular parts of the sunsets were sudden and fleeting, so I simply sat back and enjoyed.  On our last night though, things moved more slowly and I was able to capture a quick glimpse of the sunset – complete with a wisp of the rising moon – using the camera on my cell phone.

Wisp of a Moon

Come the next morning, a few clouds were still hanging around out to the west, potentially setting things up for an interesting sunrise.  Because the park is nestled into the base of the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, you don’t get a ton of light on the dunes themselves as the sun comes up.  It takes about an hour for the sun to get over the peaks to the east and hit the sand, so by that time “golden hour” is over and the light is already getting flat.  Maybe these tufts of clouds could help make things more interesting than usual?  Hmmmm….

As we were having a quick breakfast and preparing to break camp to return to everyday life, the sun started glinting off of those tufts of clouds creating a little pink in the sky.  I used my cell phone camera again for the sake of quickness and commemorated the rosy sky farewell Dunes made for us.

Red Virga Morning

So, until next year (or sooner) Dunes…

– JC

 

Treasure Hunting

Our annual late-summer trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park came and went entirely too fast yet again this year.  The funny thing about this trip was that we didn’t spend as much time in the park as we normally do since we chose to do some exploring in the San Luis Valley area.  (More on those adventures to come in future posts.)  The time we did spend hiking in the sand field turned into a little bit of photographic treasure hunting for me.
I always say that I can find something new to take pictures of at Dunes every time we go.  It’s one of the reasons I love it so much down there.  This year’s yield of pictures wasn’t as plentiful as years past, but I did come across some fun stuff.
The first find was an awesomely sharp sand ridge that created lines and shadows in the morning sun that I couldn’t look away from.  I took quite a few shots of this one ridge, playing with angles and framing.  In the end, I kept two of the shots since I couldn’t decide which I liked more – the horizontal or vertical version.  Both had their merits, and I can foresee printing one of these for display in some way in our house down the road.
The next find was a piece of weathered wood laying atop a different ridge of sand.  It caught my eye from a distance because it reminded me of conch shells I’d find on the beach growing up on the east coast.  I knew it couldn’t be a shell, though I had to check it out.  I was happy that I did as it gave me a chance to fiddle with different depths of focus to try and get the shot just right.
Desert Conch
The last find of the hike is what you’d expect if you’ve been visiting Alpha Pup Photography for any length of time – a prairie sunflower.  The bloom was still in full swing during our trip, so there was ample opportunity to find just the right shot.  This one ended up being my favorite…
Summer Sunshine
It was a good morning on the Dunes with some typical sites and some not-so-typical finds.  Certainly a great way to start our trip before venturing further out into the Valley in the days to come…

 

– JC

Dry Dunes

We made our annual camping trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park near the end this past summer.  The trip was wonderful, as usual, though something was very different from trips past.  Things were oh, so very dry…

Southwestern and south central Colorado had extreme drought conditions through much of 2018.  (It’s only gotten marginally better this fall – they’re down to only severe drought conditions.) . It was so dry down at Dunes that Medano Creek was completely dried up by the time we got there in late August!  We’ve been there plenty of times during the late summer months and we know that the creek is usually barely a trickle and is really dependent on thunderstorms for flow at that time of year.  This year though?  Completely and utterly dry and gone!  Not a trace of the creek.

To give you an idea of what we found, here’s a shot I typically take looking northeast, upstream towards the mountains.  (This shot was taken during a trip in August 2010, a year or two after some wildfires in the hills whose ashes was still washing downstream.)

Medano Creek

Here’s what we found this year…

So Dry

Little different, huh?  Even in dry years, there’s usually at least a sign that the creek had been there recently.  Some wet sand, maybe a trickle of water.  This year?  Nada.  Even when you dug your toes down a few inches, the sand was bone dry.

I always say no matter how many times we go to Dunes, we always see something new.  The lack of Medano Creek was a certainly new one for us.  It also gave us a reason to hike as far as we could (or felt like it) upstream to see if we could find signs of water.  I wish I could say we found a trace, but we did not after trekking a few miles along the creek bed.

What we did see along the way were a few fun sights of high desert life continuing in spite of the drought.  Prairie sunflowers were still around, though not as bountiful as they’ve been the last few years.  Dune grasses persistent in their survival, still mainly green in color.

 

And of course, the overall scenery was splendid as it always is…

Meandering to a Vista

Although it was abnormally dry, we still had a great time camping and hiking and hanging out with friends.  Until next year Dunes…

– JC

This post was featured as a guest blog on Zach of the Jungle 24-May-2019.

Deer Inspiration

As normally (and unfortunately) happens at Great Sand Dunes National Park, the mule deer meander through the campground looking for sloppy campers who’ve left food out that they can steal.  While it’s cool to see these creatures wandering through each day, it’s sad because they have gotten so used to people that some are a little too tame.  All that said, it doesn’t stop me from carefully taking advantage of the situation for photography reasons.

Every day during our stay, the deer came through the camp around dinner time like clockwork.  I’m not sure what the various campsite “neighbors” had left in their fire ring, but the deer loved it for some reason and kept coming back.  And they didn’t just wander through – they hung out for 30-60 minutes each night until they naturally strolled off or something scared them.

The lighting conditions that time of day were mixed, but I did have enough low-hanging tree branches to act as a blind so I was able to get some shots as they came through the campsite next door and wound their way through the grassy fields on their way to start their evening of grazing and bouncing through the sand.  (Look closely each morning when you walk on the Dunes and you’ll see their tracks all over the place, especially down by the water.)

Of the 800+ images I took during our trip, probably 500 were rapid-fire shots of these deer to see if I could get anything good.  I ditched he vast majority of those deer shots during post-processing because, really, how many shots of mule deer can one girl keep?!  But there were a couple that stood out and caught my eye as I flipped through them for a very particular reason.

Because my first pass at picture sorting is done so quickly to weed out the good & decent from the bad & horrible shots, it can be like watching a stop-action movie when I get to sequences of high-speed shooting.  When I reached the various series of deer pictures, I stumbled on a few shots that I thought would make amusing GIFs.  I’d never made a GIF before from scratch, so I tried my hand at it and I think I came up with a couple of short & cute ones…

Mule Deer Attitude

Mule Deer Flirt

For whatever reason, I always like to think that animals are smarter and have more attitude than most would give them credit for.  I think these 2 GIFs capture that sentiment perfectly!

– JC

Messin’ with Perspective

During our trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park at the end of the summer, I continued playing with perspective in my shots.  The new camera I got last year has a tilt-out screen allowing me to see what I’m shooting even if I can’t shoehorn my body into position behind the viewfinder – a handy feature to have as I get older and I get a little less nimble!  What I discovered during this trip is that this new little trick can really mess with your head when it comes to perspective in a picture.  Naturally, that’s made it my new favorite toy to play with!

I started experimenting with this new technique on our first morning hike on the dunefield.  The low angle on the old, weathered tree stump made it a touch more interesting than just the simple straight-on shot.

Downstream Driftwood

Next up was some greenery.  That’s when things started getting interesting… judging from the picture, is this a 4-inch tall weed or a 3-foot high bush?

A Weed or a Bush?

Believe it or not, that’s just a random weed on the dunefield that’s only a few inches tall!  Looking at the shot on the camera after I took it, I was pleased with it.  It wasn’t until post-processing where I realized that the super-low angle really messes with how to interpret this picture.  Kinda fun!

The next morning, the sun was out in all of its glory, making for better photography conditions.  That’s when we stumbled on this sand… cliff or ridge?

Cliff or Creekbed?

It doesn’t look it, but that’s really only a 6- or 8-inch ridge of sand left from Medano Creek earlier in the season.  When I looked at the picture when we got home, I couldn’t believe how tall the ridge looked!  It reminded me of the cliffs you see along some of the Pacific coast beaches.

Last-up, I tried applying this technique to the ripples in the sand created by the wind on the dunes themselves.  I don’t think it warps the perspective quite as much as the weed or sand ridge, but it lent itself to grabbing detail and playing with depth of focus in the shot.

In the Ripples

I’ll certainly be doing more of these shots down the road.  Can’t wait to see what I can come up with to turn a mundane shot into something really special!!

– JC

Return to The Dunes

When Labor Day rolls around, that means one destination for us – Great Sand Dunes National Park.  We adored this place even when our home base was in Pennsylvania.  Once we moved to Colorado, getting to Dunes was comparatively easy and it quickly became our new holiday weekend ritual to end the summer season.

This past Labor Day was no different and the weather was absolutely perfect for most of our trip.  (Ok, the first full day down there the weather was a bit meh for the start of the day, but it rebounded from there on out.) . In between lengthy bouts of relaxation and laziness, we did do some hiking in the dunefield and I snagged a few shots.

Our first full day started with quite a treat at our campsite – a teeny tiny rain shower passed over the dunes just as the sun got above the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east of us giving us a small bit of a rainbow!  Talk about luck.

I thought for sure I wouldn’t be able to stash my camp coffee, get the camera out, and get it setup before the rainbow went away so I figured on simply enjoying it in the moment.  I’m so happy I was wrong!  It stuck around long enough that I was able to take quite a few shots with both my standard walk-around lens and my super-wide angle lens before it faded away.  Like I always tell folks – there’s always something new for us down at The Dunes!!

Lucky Charms - Sand Dunes Style

Once we got out on the dunefield for various hikes during our trip, I snagged shots of my prairie sunflowers (of course!).  According to the park rangers, this year’s bloom was a little late in terms of timing, but wildly big and colorful thanks to the week of off-and-on rain Colorado got in early August.  Yay for me!!  Here’s 2 of my favorites that I got…

Solitary SunshineBlown

We also stumbled across somebody’s old meal leftovers…

Leftovers

And as always, the sands and the shadows were fun to play with – both for large-scale scenery shots & some more mellow close-up work…

Shadow ValleysRelaxing Waves

We had another good trip to The Dunes and I bagged another round of good shots.  I’ll share those in a couple of upcoming posts about this trip.  Stay tuned!!

– JC

He Who Is Amused By Humans

About 10 years ago on a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park, I finally had my first “big girl” camera with a long zoom lens.  Each morning of that trip, I kept trying desperately to get some shots of the mule deer as they moved from the grasses up to the hills to hang for the day.  I got pretty crazed with it (but never to the point of truly harassing and worrying the deer like so many visitors do – I made sure to keep a very respectable distance).  It was during that trip that my husband jokingly “christened” me with my Native American name:  She Who Pesters Mule Deer.

The years have passed and the urge to catch shots of deer as they graze has subsided, probably because now we live in Colorado and mule deer have replaced white-tailed deer as the ones we just see while we’re out and about town each day.  During this last trip to the Dunes tough, the urge to take deer pictures was rekindled by an unexpected and highly cooperative visitor to our campsite one afternoon.

After a day of hiking, we were relaxing at our campsite catching up on some reading when we looked up from our books and bam!  A young buck was grazing nonchalantly 20 feet from us!  I wanted pictures so badly, but the camera wasn’t within reach and I didn’t want to spook the guy.  So instead I just sat back and watched as he munched his way past our campsite, hopped a section of split rail fence with ease, and bedded down in the shade just across from our home base.

Now was my chance… grab the camera!!  I slowly and carefully freed my camera from the car and got my long lens on so I could fill the frame as much as possible even though he was close by.  I checked back to our new friend and yup – he’s still there.  I crept over, maintaining a healthy buffer, got in position, and started firing off shots.  Of course, nature doesn’t always cooperate, and this afternoon was no different. The buck bedded down square in the shade (I can’t really blame him for that!), but I did squeeze off a few good shots in spite of that.  This one is my favorite of that series:

Satisfaction

This deer was particularly chill.  Maybe he was too young to know any better or he’s just gotten that used to campers already.  He hung out for at least an hour in that shady patch, hidden among the bushes, munching on grass as he felt like it.  Seemed like a good time to let him be and tend to my own dinner.

I went back across to our campsite, made dinner, ate dinner, and by the time we were done, he was still there hanging out.  Not one to let this opportunity go by, I went back and started shooting again and he decided he needed to stretch his legs.  Even better for me was that he meandered over into to some of the golden sunlight of the late afternoon hour.  The cherry on top was that he started getting sassy and posing for me.

Sassy Diner

Finally it was time for him to move on with his night, and me with mine.  With one last glance in the brilliant sunlight, we said our goodbyes until next time.

Farewell

 

– JC