My drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park turned out to be a race with the sun. It takes about 12 hours to drive from Kansas City to GSDNP – all the way across the entire length of Kansas and a big part of Colorado – and I needed to get there before the sun set. Otherwise I’d miss my photography window. On top of that every campsite that could be reserved had been booked already, so the first-come-first-serve campsites were my only chance at getting a spot, and the later I arrived the worse my chances.
I left KC at about 7am Mountain Time and made good progress, arriving at the park around 7pm. I thought that would give me almost two hours of sunlight, but the horizon was wrapped with heavy clouds and I could see that I’d only have a short window of light, opening and closing soon.
The start of the big dune field isn’t too far away from the parking lot, but I had to approach it from the east, which meant – given that the sun sets in the west and the field’s ridgeline runs north/south – that to get any photos of light shining on the dunes I had to climb all the way up to the ridgeline. And the clock was ticking.
I’m not in terrible shape, but jogging up sand dunes at somewhat high altitude with 20 pounds of camera gear strapped to my back turned me into a gasping, wheezing mess. My throat burned by the time I reached the top, but I made it with about five minutes to spare and fired off a few shots before the direct sunlight disappeared.
Then I had a chance to relax, take in the entire dune field spread out before me, and watch some nice color build up on the horizon as the sun set behind the clouds.
I hung out and photographed until all the light and color faded. I intended to camp there at GSDNP and head back out for sunrise shots, but the campsites were all taken so I had to leave the park. I ended up driving to Pueblo, Colorado that night so I’d be in a good position the next day to pick up Marie at the Denver airport.