Snow fractures, Great Sand Dunes, near Mosca
bout this image
I arrived at the Great Sand Dunes on a cold January 15th, a Friday night in 2005, hoping that there would be a lot of snow on the dunes. I really hoped they'd be veiled in white, as the area had received a snowstorm that Wednesday, but I really had no idea what to expect. It was dark when I rode into the park with no moon, and I was squinting to see if I could make out whether or not the dunes were white, but I just couldn't tell. Well, imagine my surprise when I awoke before sunrise the next morning. I was like a kid on Christmas morning! I was in utter amazement the whole day snapping pictures left and right with a constant "I don't believe it" running through my head.
My plan since I awoke was to shoot from atop High Dune for sunset. Well, I started the long trudge out through a consistent five inches of snow, with drifts being 14" on the leeward side of many of the dune ridges. It is always such a painstaking battle walking uphill in sand that zaps so much energy, and there was a time or two being about two-thirds of the way up that I really didn't think I was going to make it. Somehow, I had the fortitude to keep pressing on. And finally, I crested the last ridge and ended up going just past High Dune as I miscalculated my destination. The view from the summit looking out over the entire dune field is so impressive at any time, but this really capped off the day to see it like this. I arrived just in the nick of time as the light was entering its warm stage. I hurried and got out the camera and started firing non-stop until well after the sun dipped below the western horizon. This and one other similar composition were but just a couple I was just clicking away at not giving much thought to, but just trying to get every composition I could come away with in this most unique and most memorable point in time.
What you're looking at here is a zoomed-in section at one of the dune slopes covered in about 4" of snow. The snow has fractured away either by its own weight, or possibly by the shifting sand, and has always reminded me of the earth's tectonic plates. The sun shown through in the valley on the other side of the dune to light up the section on the right in warm orange-pink light. Even upon getting my film back, it really never struck me as being a good picture, though I did have it posted someplace online in a trip report. It wasn't until a comment from my friend, Todd Caudle, who indicated this piece was nothing short of amazing, did it really begin to sink in that I might have something decent on my hands. Being that I value his work as much as I do, I knew I had to value his comments as well (well, some of the time!). Anyway, this image really began to grow on me, and probably within a day of seeing Todd's comment, I began to see it as he did. Ever since then, I have held it in high regard in my collection of pictures.
To me, this image encapsulates one of the rarest occasions seen in the Great Sand Dunes, being totally snow-covered, and being able to execute a photograph with a high degree of success in rapidly changing light. Sand dunes, in general, are a very popular subject matter with photographers, as they offer limitless compositional opportunities, both wide-angle and close-up, abstract shots alike. The image is one thing, but the Great Sand Dunes is a special place for me that I have a strong connection with that is magnified because they are a very unique part of the state. To date, I've only seen one other image where the photographer had identical conditions, which happens to be in one of the books sold at the visitor center, though I don't find the composition to be compelling. Perhaps he was one of the few who happened to be at the top on this same wonderful evening.
To add one more vote of confidence I received on this image, during a gallery display at the Great Sand Dunes visitor center, this was in along with other pieces from a few other local photographers in the fall and winter of 2006-2007. One of the staff administrators contacted me about being interested in buying the image for the park's superintendent who was to be leaving. They ended up not doing it for price reasons, but I really felt honored that park staff who live there liked it that much, and I could receive no higher compliment.