The San Luis Valley of Colorado is a photographer's dream. Whether you carry a cell phone or a telephoto lens, head to this part of Colorado and photograph iconic destinations. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most picturesque places in Colorado, but it's not the only place to nab killer photos. Multiple wildlife refuges make for great wildlife viewing and the open expanse of earth and sky make for striking landscapes. All of these places are just a short drive from the main hub in the valley, Alamosa.
First thing's first, find a place to stay. Alamosa is the largest town in the San Luis Valley, and easily packs the most amenities. There is a wide range of hotel and camping options , keen to every budget. When it comes to food , definitely make time for Calvillo's --an Alamosa classic. While there are over 50 restaurants and cafes to choose from, this authentic Mexican restaurant lives up to to its hype. The best place to grab a cold one at the end of the day is the San Luis Valley Brewing Company in downtown Alamosa.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one of the most interesting landscapes to photograph. The Sangre de Cristo mountains are a collection of giant, craggy peaks, most reaching heights between 11,000 and 14,000 ft.! Nestled against these peaks are the Great Sand Dunes, and from the right angle, they almost seem to mimic the towering mountains above them.
What makes the dunes so great?
The striking contrast of the sand against the mountains alone makes for compelling images. The way the light dances on the sand and the clouds flicker across the sky create interesting patterns and shadows across the sand. I have visited the dunes on multiple occasions, and each time the light and weather has been different, offering a unique experience each time. In the evening the sun glows across the landscape, casting orange and yellow hues. The texture of the sand adds interesting patterns to photos and exaggerates the contours of the dunes.
Alamosa Wildlife Refuge
Early in the morning, the quick drive out to the Alamosa Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful treat. The sky is streaked with pinks and yellows as the sun rises over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the distance. Inside the refuge, sounds from birds ring across the ponds and tall grasses.
I wish I could have bottled up the feeling of peace and tranquility that I felt that morning. The wildlife refuge is a great place to practice wildlife photography. Though a larger zoom lens would have been nice, I was still able to capture some great action that morning with my 70-200mm telephoto lens. Nearby we could see a variety of birds and a beaver swimming in a pond, while in the distance we heard the yips and howls of coyotes!
Don't limit yourself
Hanging by the Visitor's Center is already an exciting location for wildlife photography, but the refuge spans 12,026 acres. You can drive to other locations in the refuge, or even hike the 2 mile Rio Grande Nature Trail. Wherever you travel within the refuge though, you will consistently have the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristo as a dramatic backdrop for your photos.
But wait, there's more!
For more landscape photography, consider trekking up the Mosca Pass Trail near the Sand Dunes where you can capture the dunes from above. Other interesting places to practice landscape photography include Zapata Falls and Penitente Canyon near Del Norte. You'll likely find interesting landscapes just cruising along the highways in the area, too. For more wildlife photography, there are other wildlife refuges in the San Luis Valley including both the Monte Vista and Baca Wildlife Refuges.
This story was created in partnership with Visit USA Parks.