Exploring Local - the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mosca, Colorado (Part II)

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Camping in Colorado in May can be cold, I wasn't exactly prepared with a cold climate tent but Lil_E let me borrow her 30 degree bag.  I battled 40-42 degree temps that night crawling in and out of my sleeping bag (which was stuffed with a plush thermal blanket) to take photographs of the stars hoping to glance at the Milkyway.  I made sure to stay bundled up from under armor thermal tops to long underwear to keep my legs warm while standing out in the cold taking photos for a few hours at a time.  Eventually I retreat to my tent after deciding it was too cold to be out star gazing and time to be inside my sleeping bag staying warm shooting a timelapse feeding the crackling camp fire.  Above are the stars seen from my tent - not a bad view to fall asleep to. 



I awoke the next day after a delightful sleep listening to the wind whip thru the canyon and the birds chirp to the spring sunshine.  A sunny day woke everyone up at the campsite I kicked my fire on again, made some camp fire bacon, granola and the fixings and decided I would photograph and walk the dunes on my second day there.  Here are some essential items for walking the sand dunes:

  • Sunscreen / chapstick
  • Sunglasses / goggles
  • Face mask or bandana
  • Sled or sand board to shred the dunes
  • Plenty of water / Gatorade
  • The park recommends shoes / socks - I did it in sandals / small towel for feet
  • GoPro Camera

You must first cross the snow melted stream titled Medano Creek - a brisk dip to get yourself closer to the dune formations.  I spent some time photographing and standing in the cool water of the creek, it woke me up and also showed me the power of this creek bed as I would situate a tripod on this sand bank here only to turn around to watch my GoPro (that was filming me as I took photos) ready to wash down the creek.  I would run to save the GoPro turn back to my camera and slowly watch that sand bed disappear as I sprint towards my Sony setup.  After crossing the creek I threw my sandals back on (note: the park recommends shoes) and started to wander aimlessly around the dunes for a couple of hours.  It was really trippy being out there other-worldly is how I would describe it - the sand whips around & wind hits you from all directions slowly making new formations right in front of your own eyes or camera shutter.  Walking up and down the spines of each dunes was rather taxing but I didn't notice it as I was mesmerized with taking in the entire scene - massive dunes, massive mountain peaks and this huge creek bed.  A difficult thing to capture all on one camera lens - so I made a time lapse video that night of the sunset and also took tons of pictures and GoPro images.  I caution you bringing camera gear out there - the GoPro stood up well but the wind and sand can be a real test for any professional DSLR and don't even consider changing lenses over on the dune side of the creek, the wind whips very strongly here.  Be sure to stop often and keep yourself hydrated it's easy to just keep strolling thru the dunes and not drink enough liquids under the beating Colorado sun.
Here's me getting blasted with wind and sand using my GoPro as I took photos on my Sony A7 -

The elements out by the dunes will beat you up - relentless winds, beating sun blowing sand - people really only up spending a few hours out there and then end up turning back around for campgrounds or picnic areas.  I did the same after a couple hours I packed up my camera gear and made my way back to my campsite for a camp fire lunch.  I prepared lamb skewers (this recipe you can soon find in my Camping Hacks post) in the days before my trip... this was going to be the perfect lunch after burning calories huffing and puffing up and down the dunes trying to get the perfect image.  I built a camp fire in my metal pit and grilled lamb and corn on the cob - a camping lunch for champions, I'm sure the neighbors were jealous as they munched down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

Corn on the cob // over the fire

Corn on the cob // over the fire

The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
— Christopher McCandless

I made the decision to pack up and leave before another rain / snow storm struck the area that evening - but the dunes were delightful and I am sure I will be back considering how close they are.  It was a quick drive home, nothing like the drive out of the high rockies, I was hopefully for some star photography on my drive home but was only followed by cloudy skies back to the Vail Valley.  This trip remind me that you have no control of the weather when your out there camping against the elements. 

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more coming soon                                                           ~f

Check out my full album from the Great Sand Dunes National Park by clicking here.