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

Hidden Gem

One of the bonuses of my husband’s job in conservation is that some of the conferences he attends include “sessions” that involve hikes and other outdoor activities in and around the host city.  (For those of us who are stuck in dimly lit hotel ballroom/dining room settings on uncomfortable chairs for hours on end for conferences, it seems like a dream!  So jealous!)  This year’s Colorado Open Space Association annual meeting in Estes Park did just that.

One of his “sessions” (and I can’t make the air quotes big enough online!) was a hike in some Larimer County open space called Hermit Park just outside of Estes Park.  Turns out we’d driven by the entrance a few times going to/from Rocky Mountain National Park, but we’d never turned in since we were aiming for “the big park”.  Boy, were we missing something good!  Even though it was cloudy and crappy the day my husband’s conference took him up there, he saw enough that he knew he’d be taking me back there.

And so he did.  A few weeks later we went for a jaunt up to the highest point in Hermit Park and it was stunning!  Since you’re sitting slightly south and just east of Rocky, the views are phenomenal!  These shots are just a sampling of the visual goodies we found that day, shot on my phone since it was a “test run” of sorts.

Mountains Surround

I’m sure we’ll get back here down the road and I can’t wait!

 

– JC

Fall on the Solstice

Fall is officially over today and now we’re in my favorite season – winter!  Unfortunately, I’m still in clean-up mode with my pictures, so mentally there’s still a chunk of my mind stuck back in fall.

The job the last few days has been clearing the backlog of pictures log-jammed on my phone.  In today’s quick post, the taste of fall is brought to us courtesy of some shots at Rocky Mountain National Park that I snagged while visiting with my sister’s family on their vacation in early October.

Enjoy!

– JC

Dancing Sands Greet Us

Let’s just face it – I’ve been a little delinquent with blogging this fall.  Now that fall is about to turn into winter faster that I’d ever imagine, I guess it’s time to catch up – no excuses!  (Plus, doing all of this catch-up on a new computer that replaces the previous one that was 5+ years old will make it all go a helluva lot faster.)

I think last we left off we were nearing our annual trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park for a weekend of camping.  Of the trips we’re fortunate enough to take most years, we probably look forward to this one most of all.  And once again, the park didn’t disappoint.  (Does it ever, really?)  As soon as we got camp setup, I grabbed my camera and went out to play for the afternoon.

Driving into the park, I had my eye on the skies and saw the clouds building – might be thunderstorms, might just be happy puffy white clouds Bob Ross always so effortlessly plunked down on canvas on PBS back in the day.  No matter because, for me, the clouds meant drama.

The muffling of the sun that afternoon scratched any chances of getting late day shots of the shadows as they set in on the dunefield.  The trade-off though was that they created shadows on the mountains in the distance, making highlights pop a little more vibrantly than usual in the hills.  I was just happy the clouds and the highlights held on long enough for me to get in position and play a little.

An unwelcome partner with the clouds though was the wind.  Wind is one of the key ingredients in why the Dunes are there in the first place, so as annoying as it can be as it’s sandblasting your ankles, you learn how to deal with it knowing that it’s just nature at work rebuilding and shifting the piles of sand.  For me, it provided some opportunities to catch the grains in motion.

One of the most common ways to catch the sand shifting is simply on a ridge within the dunefield.  The wind blows up one side and the sand goes clear off the top and somewhere else in the field.  Over long stretches of time, that’s how the dunes change their shape.  Each day though, the wind acts as nature’s Etch-a-Sketch shaking things up and erasing the footprints left by folks scampering the hills.  I caught that Etch-a-Sketch shake at work knocking out some footprints left earlier that day…

Windy March

Later on, we dipped down into one of the valleys in the dunefield and I turned around and saw the winds swirling just the right way to make the sands dance along a slightly dampened surface.  The sand in the shade hadn’t quite dried out from showers earlier that day or the day before, letting the lighter, drier sand twirl across it in the sweetest dance.  It was truly mesmerizing to sit and watch, and even harder to capture that grace on film…

Dancing Sands

Hard to believe that this was just the start of our long weekend at Dunes!  It was a really promising beginning that didn’t disappoint the rest of our stay.  (More on that in future posts – consider yourself teased!)

 

-JC

A Day Among the Bristlecone Pines

A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 10th (!?) wedding anniversary.  Because it fell on a Friday, we made a long weekend out of it and went hiking.  The only real issue we had was where to hike.  It’s still too snowy up high, and lower down the snow is melting and making things a muddy mess.  Add to that the high temperature forecast for the day was 100+, we definitely needed to find cool!  That’s when it hit me – let’s go to the Mt. Goliath Nature Area outside of Idaho Springs!

The Mt. Goliath Nature Area fit the bill because it sits at 11,500′ of elevation meaning it’d be cooler than down here on the plains, the road to the Nature Area is right along the road up to Mt. Evans that opened up for the season a few weeks ago, and the hiking trails shouldn’t be too snow-packed or muddy.  Add to that that we haven’t been there in years and the drive from our house isn’t too long and we were on our way!

Getting up there in the morning worked out perfectly because we had the entire place to ourselves for the first few hours of the day.  Just us and the bristlecone pine trees.  These trees are some of our favorites – for my husband, it’s b/c he loves any and all trees; for me, it’s because they can be insanely photogenic.  Bristlecones can live to be almost 2,000 years old.  The trees in the Mt. Goliath Nature Area range in age from 700-1,600 years old!!  They’re weathered, they’re twisted, and that makes them immensely interesting.

Straight out of the gate, my eye was going bonkers looking at the different grains and shapes the trees make.  For a tree that’s so weathered and bleached on the outside, the grain on the inside that is exposed at points is so bright and vibrant that it’s a clear reminder that they’re very much alive and thriving.

The trail we hiked takes you through some mundane mountain forest, and then turns into groves of bristlecones the higher you get.  I found myself crouching down and bending into awkward positions quite a few times, trying to get shots of the spooky shapes they were making against the crystal-clear blue skies we had that day.

Reaching Higher

We were even lucky enough to get some wildflowers along the way.  Couldn’t believe they were already out in June!  A welcome pop of color along the way, especially as we got up real high and saw my husband’s favorite – Alpine Forget-Me-Nots (on the left, below).

Even though it had been 5 years since we were last at Mt. Goliath, I recognized some of the trees along the trail from the pictures I took back then.  I think part of that was simply having worked on the pictures and I loved so many of them that they stuck in my brain after all that time.  Another part was that some of those shots became desktop wallpaper at my “day job” to help remind me of days not spent whiled away at a desk.

All that aside, there was one tree that was memorable simply because it was that amazing.  I call it my “tree arch” and I couldn’t wait to see it again to see how (or if) it had changed.  As it turned out, it was there waiting for me without having changed a bit!

Tree Arch & Purple Flowers (HDR)

I took a ton of shots of this tree 5 years ago, and this day it was very much the same.  Better yet, on this particular day, we had the trail to ourselves and all the time in the world for me to play with my camera because we weren’t having to race weather even though we were above treeline (~12,000′).  Simply seeing Tree Arch had me giddy and I think the volume of pictures I brought home reflected that a bit.

I had to temper my giddiness a tad because I was <slap my wrist> going slightly off the trail above treeline </end wrist slap>.  I know I shouldn’t stray off the trail, especially above treeline because the grasses and flowers are so fragile since you’re in an alpine tundra climate where the greenery fights so hard to survive harsh conditions and short growing seasons.  I kept my footsteps to just rocks and sand to be safe, so no plants or other delicate greenery were harmed in the taking of these pictures.

Peek Through the Arch
Peek Through the Arch
Ages
Ages
Drinking Arch
Drinking Arch

Turns out I got all up in Tree Arch’s “business”, taking shots from inside the arch, different angles, just going wild.  I had a blast (and I already want to go back and take more pictures of it!!).

Random aside:  When we got home and I showed the shots to my folks who were visiting, they immediately said how they could see faces in the grains – especially in Drinking Arch (above)… they said it looked like a horse drinking.  Since then, I can’t help but see creatures’ faces in the wood!

Eventually I did pull myself away long enough so we could get up to the loop trail at the top of the mountain that gives a spectacular view of the Continental Divide.  Not a bad place to stop for a light lunch before heading back to the trailhead and civilization.

Continental Divide Pano from Mt. Goliath

Shockingly, we had the entire trail to ourselves the entire day until just yards from the parking lot.  We were totally spoiled, and that made for a superb way to start our anniversary celebration that ended with a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants.  Simply a perfect day to celebrate 10 years together!

– JC

Quick Post for a Quick Shoot

This morning I wandered down to the big park near our house to try to get some shots of the prairie dogs.  Welp, the little critters weren’t exactly cooperative, but I did get a couple of shots around the park worth sharing.

Enjoy!

–JC

Thistle in August
Thistle in August
Momma's Morning Chill
Momma’s Morning Chill
Lil' Birds on a Sandbar
Lil’ Birds on a Sandbar
Late Summer Thistles, Mount Meeker, & Longs Peak
Late Summer Thistles, Mount Meeker, & Longs Peak