Dunes and Sangres

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, June, clouds

Stormy Dunes : Prints Available

Ominous clouds brew over the dunes - June.

This last weekend we went on a little road trip to the Great Sand Dunes, followed by a couple nights of camping and hiking in the Sangre de Cristos. We arrived at the dunes in the afternoon on Friday and started the hike into the dunes under a sky full of wild ominous clouds, along with sandblasting winds.

Great Sand Dunes, sunset, Colorado, fiery, Sangre de Cristo

Fiery Dunes Sunset : Prints Available

A fiery sunset over the Great Sand Dunes with the Sangre de Cristo mountains behind - June.

With the heavy clouds above and a clear horizon to the west, I knew that we were in store for a special sunset. I was not disappointed! We found a high west facing dune with a nice vista over the ocean of sand, and waited in the wind until the sun dipped below the clouds and illuminated the scene with intense sunset light. Pretty freaking amazing…

camping, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, June

After sunset the clouds cleared and the wind calmed down enough for us to stroll around under the moonlight and enjoy our bottle of wine! Not the best night of sleep, though, with sand blowing in our sleeping bags for most of the night. But it’s hard to beat waking up in the middle of the dunes on a glorious bluebird morning!

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, hiking

Hiking out in the morning. I was excited to show Claudia the Great Sand Dunes, one of my favorite places on the planet. She was impressed, and is already looking forward to our next visit.

More photos below!

Medano Creek, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, hiking

After scorching and sanding our bare feet on the hike out of the dunes, the walk up the cool waters of Medano Creek was pure bliss.

Hiking into Willow Creek, Sangre de Cristos, Colorado

A short drive later, and after a great lunch at the Shambala Cafe in Crestone, we re-packed our backpacks and headed to Willow Lake in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Bighorn sheep in the Sangre de Cristos, Colorado

We spent two nights camping near the lake. A pack of bighorn(?) sheep calls this place home and provided lots of entertaining wildlife watching, along with the marmots, pikas, deer, and song birds. Spring is in the air!

Kit Carson, fourteener, Sangre de Cristo, Colorado

My goal was to climb Kit Carson Mountain, a 14,165 ft. fourteener that I have never climbed before. Upon reaching the 14,080 ft. summit of neighboring Challenger Point, I saw that the standard route up Kit Carson (a narrow ledge that wraps around the summit block) was full of snow, and therefore impassible to me without crampons or ice axe. Even with snow equipment, the route would be extremely dicey with the massive exposure below. You can see the route in the photo above – it’s the ledge that’s full of snow and traverses up to the right. I guess I’ll have to come back some other day.

Canoe in Willow Lake, Sangre de Cristos, Colorado

On our last morning, we went for a joyride in a canoe that was docked at the lake. So much fun… Whoever brought that thing up there – you rock! We paddled around the lake, checked out the big waterfall, stalked the sheep from the water, and generally enjoyed the morning before being scared away by the growing thunderclouds. A great end to a great weekend!

30 thoughts on “Dunes and Sangres

  1. Freaking awesome trip report, Jack. “Fiery Dunes Sunset” is without a doubt one of your best shots…nicely, nicely captured. Still can’t get over the lack of snow…looks like August. I’ll be in Lake City in 9 days!

    1. Holy crap. I had no idea. Wow, that is super sad. Pretty mind boggling and heart wrenching to consider this after having such a care-free “good time” out there on that same canoe just a week later.

        1. Hey Jackson, I don’t think it’s disrespectful. The canoe is just a canoe… it was sweet for us and for many others who’ve used it, unfortunately not for Jesse. So sad.

  2. A canoe on Willow Lake: how awesome is that?! Fiery Dunes Sunset is pretty awesome too, but I’m also really enjoying the human scale Claudia’s bringing to your photo essays.

  3. Awesome trip report Jack. It looks you guys were covered in sand. Terrific sunset shot by the way. The lake looks lovely. Did you shoot any sunrise/sunset pics of it while you were there? Unbelievable how little snow is left in the mountains. Crazy story about the canoe and the unfortunate accident. Do you think they’ll removed the body from the lake? It is kind of creepy thinking about a body resting at its bottom. I don’t think the accident is a valid reason to destroy the canoe like someone on the forum suggested. Anyways, awesome work Jack I enjoyed this report!

    1. Thanks Michael! I got skunked at the lake both evenings with the sunset… I was set up and ready to go but either the light didn’t come, or the lake was blown out. I had plans to shoot the sunrise on the last morning, but at 4am I suddenly lost all motivation… imagine that! 🙂

    2. Please don’t be creeped out. Jesse was a really good friend of mine, someone who had a great impact on my life for which I am very grateful. He loved the mountains with all his being, a real gentle and kind soul.. I know that he’d be meditating nothing but good vibes to anyone out on the lake or the mountains around. As for the canoe.. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that he wouldn’t want the canoe to be destroyed or taken out, just maybe if someone would bring life jackets out there. Maybe that’s what I’ll do (if someone hasn’t already) when I come visit later on, to pay my respects.. (although just so y’all know, even with a life jacket on, you can still die of hypothermia in cold waters, so please be careful!).


      1. Also, I meant to say thanks for sharing your pictures and travels with your blog Jack.. your pics are beautiful. I stumbled upon here looking for images of Willow Lake and the mountains around it, since I have yet to explore the area, and wanted to see this place that Jesse had visited so often. He also was a fine photographer, I bet he would have really admired your work (or already has)..

        1. Hi Gnarla, thank you for your comments; it’s nice to hear your thoughts about Jesse – although I did not know him, it’s good to hear a more personal side from a friend of his. I hope you or somebody (maybe me next time) does bring up life jackets to the lake – it would be an easy way to keep the enjoyment of the canoe, but a bit safer.

  4. Awesome sunset photo, truly one of your best, but I also like the dark clouds one (first one on blog). Keep up the cool work, Jack. As for the canoe, it’s just a canoe, although the accident was very sad.

    1. Thanks Chinle! I agree, the accident was a tragedy, but like some said in that linked forum, blaming the canoe would be like blaming the trail, or the lake itself. Anyhow, sad indeed.

  5. Yowza! That sunset is about as good as it gets, man. Perfectly executed too. I cracked up at the sleeping in the sand image, thinking of how incredible it must’ve been to wake up there, spit out a little sand, run your fingers through your hair where there’s more sand… Claudia’s tough! What was the hike up Challenger like? Man, KC looks burly from there! Nice work, Jack.

    1. Thanks Dave! Challenger was mostly a tedious slog up fairly steep tundra and loose rock, with a fun, slightly scrambly exposed traverse along the top ridge. The route up and around KC looks really interesting… if there were no snow. The southern face is impressive!

  6. Hi Jack,

    Cool sunset over the Dunes and Sangres…! You were obviously luckier than i was back in March regarding the clouds (or absence of it) 🙂
    Let’s try to meet there again in the future…



  7. Jack,

    Boooom..!! mind is blown away..!! Awesome photos and captures..!! We have planned the same trip and we will be staying on the sand dunes too, on May 25. Then, (May be) we will be going to Estes Park. BUT, your trip plan looks more cool ( may be because of your photography skills :P).. could you send me your views? suggestions? or YOUR TRIP PLAN? is it hard to get the place to camp on the DUNES?
    Let me know.
    Great couple u both are.. ( I m guessing you both are couple :P). I saw your all trip photos, awesome.. I have to say, I have visited Leh-Ladakh, and as a travel enthusiast, I have to say, GO TO LADHAKH and capture the Other side of HIMALAYA..!!


    1. Hi Viraj, thanks for your comment and compliments! The Great Sand Dunes is an incredible spot – one of my favorite places in Colorado (or the world, for that matter!) There’s a car-camping campground near the dunes, but the best thing to do is to go backpacking into the dunes. All you have to do is hike over the first main crest of dunes, then you’re allowed to camp anywhere you want. It might take a couple hours to hike up and over that first crest, and it’s pretty difficult hiking up the sand with a big backpack and water, but it’s worth it! Have fun!

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