Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alamosa, Co. Part 3- The Great Sand Dunes N.P.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a very unique place with four distinct ecosystems.  The sand dunes, the tallest in North America, rise 750 feet from the scrub brush covered valley floor. The sand is always moving due to winds in the area and piles up against the Sangre De Cristo mountains.  These mountains rise to over 14,000 feet in elevation and the snow cap found there creates the fourth ecosystem, a riparian zone called the Medano Creek area.

The best times to photograph the dunes is after a major snow storm when the dunes are covered in snow, and in the spring when snow melt from the mountains behind the dunes, fills the Medano Creek area with water at the base of the dunes.  I was there at the wrong time for either of these conditions.  The dark areas on the dunes, as seen above, are what's left of last week's snow storm and the riverbed was nothing but sand and driftwood.

Well, after three days in the San Luis Valley, it's time to head back to my home away from home, Englewood, Co.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alamosa, Co. Part 2- Sandhill Cranes of the San Luis Valley

 Sandhill Cranes stopover in the San Luis Valley of southwestern Colorado twice each year, once in the spring on their trip north to Yellowstone N.P. and again in the fall, as they head south to Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico. These amazing birds can grow to over four feet tall with a wingspan of nearly six feet.

The first thing that identifies these magnificent birds is their deep, sharp chortle filling the valley and it's something that you simply must hear to appreciate. As 20,000+ cranes fill a relatively small area of approximately 1/4 mile square, communication between flocks is essential and is usually left to the leader/navigator of the flock.

Mating, for the Sandhill Crane, is quite a spectacle, where the female Sandhill drops her head but keeps her eyes on the male as he flaps his wings and jumps repeatedly, at times as high as six feet off the ground.  Showing off like this usually works and the couple stay together for life.

After feeding for the better part of the day, the Sandhill Cranes take off for local marshes and a chance to socialize.  The Cranes will continue this pattern of feeding and socializing until mid April when, without notice, the skies over the entire valley seems to be filled with Sandhill Cranes heading north.

Tomorrow, I'm off to the Great Sand Dunes N.P.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Alamosa, Co. Part 1- Landscapes

The San Luis Valley is located in southwestern Colorado and is surrounded by mountains, some of which rise over 14,000 feet above the valley floor.  My center of operations was the city of Alamosa, almost an equal distance between the Great Sand Dunes NP and the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge, stopover for 20,000+ Sandhill Cranes on their way north to Yellowstone NP. 

This post is part one of a three post series and contains landscape images taken near or inside the refuge.

The marshes were frozen solid and therefore of little interest to the Sandhill Cranes and other birds within the refuge. That said, this frozen ecosystem made for one of my favorite landscape images of the trip.

The image above is of Mont Blanca, just one of many mountains that surround the San Luis Valley.  It's peak rests at more than 14,000 feet and is covered in its snowy cap year round.

Tomorrow's post- Sandhill Cranes of the San Luis Valley

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Garden Of The Gods

Today, I took a drive south on I-25 to Colorado Springs (about an hour away) to visit a truly unique place.  Garden Of The Gods rises up out of the Front Range with color and character to spare.  The image above was taken from the Visitor's Center and clearly shows Pike's Peak framed by the entrance rocks to the park.

It was our first 70 degree day and I wanted to make the most of it.  I wasn't alone.  Bus after bus loaded with school kids, van tours for older folks and walkers, runners, and climbers filled the small valley.

There are over 15 miles of trails that wind through the 1385 acres of the park.  These include hiking trails, horse trails, and mountain biking trails.  You can even join a Segway tour.  After 8 hrs hiking and shooting in the park, that last mode of transport sounded great.

Pretty self-explanatory here.  Several people ate lunch under the rock.  I, however, was not one of them.  Like Balancing Rock, most of the park is visible from the roads that circle the park.  This guy was in a hurry.

This shot is of the Central Garden and is iconic for Garden Of The Gods.  I couldn't help myself.  Admit it, with a view like that, you'd shoot it too.

Rock climbing is a very popular sport in Colorado (what sports aren't) and the park has several areas dedicated to this crazy endeavor.  If you look closely, you can see two climbers on this, the tallest rock in the Garden.

One last stroll into the sunset and it's time to get my tired bones back in the truck for the drive home.  This will not be my last visit to Garden Of The Gods.  Fall should be lovely. 

That's it for this week.  Next week, I head down south to Alamosa, Co. for the migration of the Sanhill Cranes and a side visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the largest sand dunes in North America.