On our drive down to Great Sand Dunes, we stopped for a look at the Royal Gorge near Cañon City. Access is closed now due to a recent fire in the area. The bridge, built in 1929, is 955 feet (291 m) above the river and held the record of highest bridge in the world from 1929 to 2001.
Royal Gorge is actually the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River. This is a telephoto shot looking down 1000 feet to the river below.
Great Sand Dune National Park is in the San Luis Valley, and it abuts Great Sand Dunes National Preserve which is mostly in the very tall Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and north.
Our first look at the dunefield and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains beyond. The Sangre de Cristo range has at least 5 peaks over 13,000 feet.
Our campsite at the Pinyon Flat Campground, with a view of the dunes through the trees.
After settling into camp, we went out to the dune field to catch the late afternoon/early evening light.
First evening's late light on the dunes.
First evening's late light on the dunes. The sun flares on the lens was often unavoidable as we looked west.
First evening's late light on the dunes. The highest dune is 750 feet above the valley floor.
First evening's late light on the dunes. The dynamic of dune creation is that the prevailing winds drive the sand to the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and then the water flow out of the mountains moves much of the sand back to the dune field, keeping it well supplied with sand.
The next morning we got up early and started hiking into the dune field by 7:15am to catch some early light and to avoid crowds.
Our objective was to hike to the highest dune, 750 feet high. As it turned out, that was much farther into the dune field than we realized, and we ended up hiking up to the 2nd highest dune, at 650 above our start.
I love sand dunes and their smooth, curvaceous shapes, so you're going to see a lot of sand in this gallery!
Part way up, looking back down, with still pretty early light.
Some people starting their hike below us give some sense of scale. We've already hiked pretty far, much farther than it looks at first glance.