Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a real gem of a park, located in southern Colorado. I visited in mid-September, and it had an off the beaten path feel to it, like nobody really knows it's there; driving in at sunset, I felt like I was being let in on a well-kept secret.
Nestled into the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the dunes reach 750 feet in height. 750 feet doesn't seem all that high--especially when it's eclipsed by the Rocky Mountains--but hiking in the Great Sand Dunes National Park proved more challenging than I anticipated. The sand gives just enough to make travel surprisingly slow and difficult.
Waking before sunrise, I began climbing the dunes in the dark, in the hopes that the pastel sunrise light would cast its colors on the sand. I was not disappointed! Pinks and purple skies gave way to bright aqua as the sun rose above the mountain range to the east.
Great Sand Dunes National Park Climate
The park is situated at 8500' of elevation, so it exhibits a high desert climate, and can get very cold. Overnight temperatures in September were in the 30s. During a hot summer day, the surface of the sand can get up to 140 degrees.
Great Sand Dunes National Park Lodging
The closest lodging option to the trailhead is the Pinyon Flats campground. Camping at the park was easy and convenient, but being prepared for the cold nights is a must.
Photographing Great Sand Dunes National Park
As with most landscapes, sunrise and sunset are a safe bet for good light on the dunes. Because the dunes are nestled into the shadow of the mountains, adjust your projected sunrise and sunset times accordingly. HDR, clarity adjustments, and black and white conversions can all be useful post-processing tactics to bring out the texture of the sand dunes.