Last Day at Great Sands

Monday, October 20
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Our last full here in Great Sands. It also marks the beginning of our quick trip home. I definitely wanted to photograph dawn from the top again. The last couple of mornings were too cloudy at dawn and the light was just too flat to make the effort to get to the top. I also like to wait a day or two between hikes up there to give myself a chance to recover. Climbing uses muscles in a different way apparently, and toes and calves are usually pretty sore a day after.4942_GreatSan4-1 4956_GreatSan4-3I managed to convince Mary that getting up at 5:45 AM, to be at the top by 7:15, was a good idea. It is probably 1.5 miles from our campsite to the top, but the end of that first 1/2 mile puts you at the foot of the 700’ dunes. Going up takes a while. Even if you pick the right route, you will be faced at some point with a steep, loose slope of sand. You wouldn’t think you could get so winded trying to get up one of these things, but it seems to goe with the territory.4962_GreatSan4-4 4986_GreatSan4-64994_GreatSan4-7Out the door with our flashlights by 6:15, we got down the main trail to the edge of Medano Creek dunes pretty quickly. I was a little surprised it was still so dark. Just 3 days ago, I could easily see at this time. I guess the days get shorter faster here. I could hear the creek as it whispered by at our feet, but finding an easy path that wouldn’t freak Mary out was a bit of a challenge in the dark. In the end, from the sound of occasional splashes, I surmised she was finding her own way.5018_GreatSan4-10We ended up on the other side eventually, but it was still too dark to see where our planned path took off from. Nothing to do but wait a bit. Too easy to run into that wall of sand to climb to correct the mistake – or go back. It wasn’t long though until we could see well enough to find the starting point.5006_GreatSan4-8 5015_GreatSan4-9 5032_GreatSan4-11Most of the way up we stayed together pretty well. I’d stop often for views, water, and Mary. Eventually She tailed off a little more and I went on. We usually manage to meet up somewhere else on the dunes. It’s not that hard to keep track of the others’ path and eventual location. Just follow the footprints.5036_GreatSan4-12 5044_GreatSan4-13Last evenings’ high winds over the dunes really helped smooth out footprints from the past week. Not perfect, but I was so thankful when I saw it blowing yesterday. The wind can be good!5057_GreatSan4-14I made it to a good starting place well before dawn. There were plenty of clouds, but enough breaks to make me believe sunrise would happen, at least in part. Sunrise started with the tips of the Sangre de Cristo’s lighting up. The recent snow flurries up there have dressed them in a lovely coat of white, and lingering clouds helped diffuse the light to give the entire area a wonderful glow.
4963_GreatSan4-5Off in the far West, I could see as the sky turned from a deep blue at the horizon to a warm rose up high. I watched as the rose lowered to the plain and slowly advanced to the dunes. Eventually, just before the clouds obscured it all, light broke on the far dunes. From this point, light just made the occasional appearance.5068_GreatSan4-15We had time though. We did our usual waiting around thing. Shot a lot of flat light images. Some of these turn out pretty nice, but the star attraction this morning was going to be light. We wandered around for a couple of hours, getting the occasional break, until we felt that even if the sun did come out more fully, it would be very contrasty. We sat down together and split a Cliff Bar while just watching the light change over the dunes all around us.5082_GreatSan4-16Heading down, we stopped a few more times, and of course, now the sun was shining steadily. But we were ready for breakfast and a shower. The rest of the day was dedicated to lounging around and planning our route home. We have several days built in that we intend to use in the Moab area before we really do have to streak home.

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