Pete's Stuff

A Really Big Pile of Sand

Here's some more pictures from my 2007 Colorado/Wyoming trip. These were taken at Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley of south central Colorado. The valley is dry, with prevailing westerly winds most of the year, and is hemmed in on three sides by some impressive mountain ranges - on the east, by the Sangre de Cristo Range. Over thousands of years, the winds have picked up, carried, and deposited sand into a pocket on the northeastern edge of the valley. They've formed a giant playground six or seven miles in diameter, tucked in the shadow of peaks rising seven thousand feet above.

The dunes are tall. One of the most popular hikes is up to what's known as High Dune, 600 feet above the valley floor. This is a picture looking south with High Dune off the right edge. The little black specks are people climbing up. And in the background, a nice anvil cloud brewing over New Mexico.

A sense of scale...

A simple composition.


Although some areas are nothing but wind-blown sand, there's a surprising amount of plant life in the hollows. These mule-ear sunflowers were in the west central part of the dunes, south and west of Great Star Dune and well off the beaten path for most visitors.

Sunflowers in the sand

I took a curving route south, then east from Great Star Dune, following the south edge of the dune field. On the way, I photographed these crescent-shaped barchan dunes, which form (and move) where the amount of sand is not so large as to completely cover the surface. They are constantly blown E to NE by the prevailing winds, as new ones form on the SW edge.

Barchan dunes