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

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

Sunflower Trail

With our annual trip falling a touch later than usual on the calendar and the dry late summer weather, I didn’t hold much hope for seeing many – if any – of the prairie sunflowers I love so much at Great Sand Dunes.  Imagine my glee as we approached the park entrance and I saw some hints of yellow among the sand… the sunflowers were there!  Even more astounding was the bounty of flowers we saw from the campground and on our first afternoon of hiking!  As we found out from talking to the rangers, some last-minute late season rain came just in time to create a later than normal sunflower bloom.  Rock on!!

The next morning, over our “camp mochas” (recipe below), we watched the sunlight come up over the mountains to the east and light up the dunefield for another day of play.  This morning was different though – much more colorful than usual.  There were huge pockets and stripes of yellow popping out all over the sand!

It was in that moment my husband had a fantastic idea – let’s go chase sunflowers.  They typically grow best where the water collects – in the basins and valleys between the dunes and ridges.  In some spots, full stripes of sunflowers made golden roads up the hills of sand.  Love it when Mother Nature provides an easy self-guided tour!

So off we went… up one hill and down another.  Every couple of ridges our jaws simply dropped.  We’d never seen a sunflower bloom this big or with flowers so densely concentrated in spots!  Just stunning and utterly surprising.

Sunflower Road

Normally when I’m at Dunes and shooting with the prairie sunflowers, I’m always going for the lonely, solitary sunflower against the vast tan sands and brilliant blue skies.  Not really happening this trip… too many of the flowers were too close together.  (Admittedly, I did get one of those solitary sunflower shots that I liked, so enjoy!)

Sunflower Simplicity

After some more hills, more stopping for pictures, and just enjoying the views on a gorgeous day, we reached our destination and… wowzers!  Utterly gobsmacked!!  The yellow stripe we saw from the campground was only a small fraction of the flower patch we found.  Even a multi-shot panorama can’t do it justice!

Sunflower Basin

We’d never seen anything like this kind of bloom in all of our years of going to Dunes.  It was spectacular and I’m so thankful we were able to see it!

 

– JC

 

Camp Mocha

We started making these each morning to wake up at our camp site.  The mix made drinking the instant coffee much more palatable…

1 packet instant hot chocolate

1 packet of instant coffee

Combine the hot chocolate and instant coffee with 12-16oz. of hot water and stir.

Variation:  Use instant Mexican hot chocolate instead of the regular for a little extra kick.

 

More Great Sand Dunes Shots

I added a few more new shots that I snagged on my phone during our Great Sand Dunes trip to the gallery today. There’s a few from the storms that were blowing through the afternoon we arrived, and another that gives some great perspective on how big the dune field really is. Head on over to Galleries -> Colorado -> Great Sand Dunes and check ’em out!