Star Dune Sunset

Star Dune Sunset, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Star Dune Sunset, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Star Dune is the tallest dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park, rising some 750 feet above the flat floor of Colorado’s San Luis Valley. It provides a superb vantage point for views of the 30-square-mile dune field and the 14,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Late in the day the warm light of the setting sun picks out every ripple in the sand and the sinuous crest of every dune. What this image barely hints at, however, is the gale-force winds that were raking the summit and filling the air with blowing sand as I photographed. Without wind, these dunes wouldn’t exist. Star Dune is both the name of this particular dune and a type of dune formation. The wind at Great Sand Dunes National Park typically blows out of the southwest, scouring sand from the level plain of the San Luis Valley and piling it on top of the dunes. Occasionally, during storms, the wind shifts direction and blows out of the northeast. These shifting winds give Star Dune, as well as other dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park, their complex and fascinating shape, ever-changing in subtle ways, yet fundamentally the same in overall structure.


For the complete story of the five-day shoot during which I made this image, please see my blog post Sandstorms, Sunsets, and the Milky Way.