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two girls in alamosa sand dune with sand boards

Photo Ops for Everyone

Having been lucky enough in the summer of 2013 to be the driver for a photography class in Northern New Mexico, I 'attended' the class of a photographer who made his living traveling the world with his camera. He had a camera, of course, but he informed the class that they could start with whatever camera they had available, including a simple digital or cell phone camera. It's mostly a matter of seeing the shot and even then, sometimes he snaps a hundred pictures and only has three or four that meet his expectations.

With today's digital technology it is easy to do that, so fire away!

In mid-November I planned a trip to the Great Sand Dunes as I had never seen them in winter and was anxious to try my new photography skills. The day dawned heavy with fog and I thought I would not see the Dunes all day. As I waited, the fog lifted and as I approached on the road, I knew this was not a wasted trip.

As with other magical places, the Dunes change with the changing light. After a snowstorm combined with wind and sun, there were beautiful patterns before me. Armed with my iPad I started snapping pictures. The damp brown colored sand contrasting against the varying shapes of snowdrifts looked like a giant dish of cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing. A nice image that has its own way of affecting the senses. Some of the patterns I created with my footprints and contrasted them with what Mother Nature had done. Other images are all her! I like my shadow shot from the low angle of the winter sun on the wind sculpted snow. Wind plays with snow the same way it does with the sand. The snow is only a few hours old—and the sand grains are millions of years old—but she treats them the same.

Enter the human element. When I arrived at High Dune I was hearing French but not the usual French accent I have heard. The sisters, Sarah and Naomi, were from Quebec and could easily transition from English to French. Their friend Colin was American. They had never seen the Dunes. We stood and enjoyed the warm sunshine. There was not much wind. We looked to the east and could see about 20 people sliding down one of the snowfields on the Dunes. They were going fast! We could hear their screams of joy. Colin said it was a Boy Scout troop that had made the trek. What better way to spend a Saturday as a kid? We shared the beauty of the day for 15 minutes and started our trek back down.

If you find yourself passing through the San Luis Valley in winter, perhaps on your way to a ski resort or playing in the backcountry, the Great Sand Dunes are an excellent place to practice snapping photos. The images you capture and the ones that remain only in your mind will be treasures.

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