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Hiking the big dunes

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Hiking the big dunes

Have you imagined getting off into the big deserts to hike among the sweeping sand dunes of the Sahara or the Rub al Khali in the U.A.E? For many it may not be a reality to travel half way around the world to achieve this dream. But for those who live in the United States there are a few options that are worthy substitutes. One of those is Great Sand Dunes National Park in south central Colorado on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising to a maximum height of 750 feet (229 m) from the floor of the San Luis Valley on the western base of the Sangre de Cristo Range, covering about 19,000 acres (7,700 ha). Researchers say that the dunes started forming less than 440,000 years ago.

The dunes were formed from sand and soil deposits of the Rio Grande and its tributaries, flowing through the San Luis Valley. Over the ages, glaciers feeding the river and the vast lake that existed upon the valley melted, and the waters evaporated. Westerly winds picked up sand particles from the lake and river flood plain. As the wind lost power before crossing the Sangre de Cristo Range, the sand was deposited on the east edge of the valley. This process continues, and the dunes are slowly growing. The wind changes the shape of the dunes daily.

With the gorgeous backdrop of surrounding mountains the park is a photographers delight and provides ample hiking opportunities to surround yourself by the large dunes. Shadow play in the early and later hours of the day make for photographs with interest and great depth. So, if you want the experience of the sand dunes but are unable to travel around the world, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a great option.

Scott Kemper is a published landscape and world travel photographer who's fine art photography is available through his website at