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

 

Adventures Around Alamosa

The centerpiece attraction on the second day of our grip to Great Sand Dunes was actually in Alamosa… involving beer (of course!).  During the course of doing research for something at work, my husband discovered a new brewery outside of Alamosa that essentially is a farm-to-table brewery.  They grow as many of the ingredients for their beer on their farm and serve it in their taproom on-site.  Pretty cool concept, especially as it pertains to both agriculture tourism and beer geekdom!

 

Based on the hours they’d be open, we decided to spend the morning at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge just to the east of town.  We’ve driven by it so many times and never made the turn to check it out, so it seemed like something fun to do.  We weren’t sure what we’d see once we got back there, but if nothing else we’d get a good walk/hike out of it.

 

The parking lot at the Refuge was empty aside from a lone person who rode in on his mountain bike.  Empty trail heads are a wonderful sight, since they often mean the trails aren’t crowded!  The refuge had a loop that you could drive or a nature trail that ran along an irrigation ditch that you could walk for a couple of miles.  Walking sounded good, so off we went down the nature trail.

 

The views of the San Luis Valley, the mountains, and the Dunes were beautiful.  It was nice for us to get a different perspective on the scenery in a literal sense since we were looking at sites we’re so familiar with from a few miles further south than where we usually hang.

 

Prairie Mountain View

 

The one drawback to this walk along the irrigation ditch was that it was full of water.  Water means there’s bugs.  And we’re not talking just any bugs… crazy-big biting horseflies.  The flies would not leave me alone.  They generally left my husband alone, but not me.  At points some were trying to bite me through my hiking leggings!  I gutted it out as best as I could, but it was getting nuts between bites that were swelling up and swatting at myself constantly all while wearing my pack with my big camera strapped to the front.  My husband even started walking behind me to help swat them off of my back because it was getting that insane!

 

Given the personal insect invasion I was experiencing, I was walking at a pretty good clip to get back to the trail head.  I had my hiking boots on since the trail wasn’t perfectly clear and had a fair amount of tall grass & sticks along the way, though the boots weren’t laced up all the way to the hooks above my ankle as I normally do when I don’t need the extra ankle support.  (Do you sense disaster coming yet?)

 

Well, we got to about 100-150 yards from the parking lot.  Shelter from the biting flies was in sight!  That’s when the loop on the shoelace of my right boot caught in the unused hook of my left boot, quickly changing my stride length from a couple of feet to less than 6 inches in an instant.  I managed 1 or 2 stumbling steps in an attempt to catch myself, but the momentum was too much.  I went down.  Hard…. with my big camera hooked to the straps of my backpack.

 

My left knee took the brunt of the impact, but I was more concerned about what impact my camera took.  I was uber fortunate because – somehow – I managed to turn my camera just enough that it took the impact towards the end of my 24-70 prime lens that had a polarizer on it.  A little dirty, maybe a scratched filter, but both the camera and lens were still working without any problems!  Huge sigh of relief… now let’s see how bad the knee is and if I can walk.  (Yes, my priorities are a little whacked sometimes when it comes to my camera.)

 

Unbelievably, my hiking leggings weren’t ripped open.  I thought for sure they’d be in tatters with a really badly scraped knee and other assorted bruises.  So I rolled my pant leg up to check the damage and – amazingly – not bad, at least in terms of open wounds.  However, from the throbbing, I knew I hit right on the top of the shin bone at my knee, so I figured I’d be in for a colorful souvenir from this trip within the next day or so.  Time to hobble back to the car for some preliminary first aid.  Needless to say, hiking for the day (and maybe the weekend) was over.

 

We drove into Alamosa and picked up an ice pack and a bandage to try to keep the swelling at bay as we still had another night of camping at Dunes ahead of us.  So this became my fashionable look for the rest of the weekend:

 

Clumsy Casualty

 

With my gimpy leg, the options for activities were limited, so we did what we do best – found a new place to eat and have adult beverages!  We drove further west to Del Norte (pronounced “Del Nort” by the locals) to a brewery recommended to us mainly for its pizza.  We were not led astray – the pizza was fabulous and the beer was really good too.  Another great food find in south central Colorado!

 

Eventually, we ended up at our main destination at the Colorado Farm Brewery and it did not disappoint.  They can’t always grow every single ingredient they need for their beers, but they do grow as much as they possibly can.  (Some varieties of hops, in particular, are tricky to grow in Colorado.)  They did have a beer that was made with only ingredients from the farm and it was really good.  The scenery from the patio at the taproom wasn’t too shabby either.  The combo was exactly what I needed for a relaxing afternoon after my clumsy/semi-dramatic start to the day’s adventures!

 

Ingredients to Glass

 

– 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