It's only a 3-4 hour drive from Clayton, NM to Alamosa, CO where I stayed during my visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park. A short day compared to the day-long drives I had previously.
Before getting to Alamosa I stopped by the park since I still had ample daylight. It was Dec. 5 and the visitor center was closed due to President Bush's memorial service and national day of mourning so I went out to the dunes to explore with the 20 or so others that were romping about. At first I wasn't too impressed with the dunes, I knew right off that I preferred White Sands National Monument. Of course the sand had prints all over it and I really didn't have the time nor ambition to dive deep into the park to find virgin sand. The mountains offered a beautiful backdrop but the color of the sand was somehow off-putting from a photographic sense. Perhaps the contrast was lacking but the dunes seemed dull. There was little light to speak of which I'm sure contributed to the stale feel. I was hoping that the snow that filled the shady, scalloped indentations in the dunes would offer something special but I couldn't find it.
I headed back to the park early the next morning, back into the dunes trying to find a composition in the morning light. I found the one above but it's not satisfying in a way that the right light and conditions could provide.
When the visitor's center opened I went to get my National Park Passport stamped and bought a patch. I buy a patch from all the National Parks I visit and have accumulated quite a few now. I'll also browse the book section looking for photographic books of the park or area. I found one that I really liked and was tempted to buy (sorry, can't recall title or photographer). The photography in that volume brought me to the realization that in order to do the park, any park or location justice photographically, you have to spend many, many days, weeks, months in a place. You must see it in all seasons, all types of weather, all hours of the day. It seems (and is) obvious but that realization took a few years to really crystallize. I always knew that, other than those areas close to home, I'd never capture any landscape in all conditions and all seasons. The draw of new places, new scenery, was too seductive, too much the siren's call. It took a long time for this idea to resonate deeply enough to change my thinking: Instead of trying to "see it all," try instead to see it deeply (Ben Horne, if you're reading this, I imagine you're wearing that knowing smile).
I dashed south from Great Sand Dunes after overhearing the ranger give her morning report and learning that the storms which pummeled California were arriving and the higher elevations would be getting snow. Time for warmer climes; time to go home.