First off I would like to thank Miles Morgan for the inspiration to go in search of a great photo yesterday. I had been considering a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park for a while now, but I have just been to busy to make the trip. Wednesday night however at about 8:00 I came across this picture that Miles had recently posted. Folks, that is one hell of a picture. I looked at it for about 10 minutes going between admiration and jealously, when I decided the only thing to do was get off my butt and go in search of a powerful image. This and only this would make me feel better. I set my alarm for 1:15 the next morning and packed my gear. I arrived at the dunes at about 5 a.m. which gave me just enough time to hike to the top and get set up by 6:30 when the first color started. I had good luck and bad. The color was great, and the mountains in the distance were covered with snow, but the dunes where covered in snow as well, meaning all those great comps that come from the blowing sand were hidden. The shoot was not a success. No prob, I knew I still had one more chance at it. Later in the day the light was great, and most of the snow was gone, but I still had a big issue. The wind had picked up to 50-60 miles per hour, and was gusting to well beyond that. If you have never been to sand dunes in that kind of wind, just imagine being in a giant sand blaster for some kind of reference. It is rough. It was difficult to even stand up during the gusts, not to mention the sand pelting your face. I was pretty sure that the weather proofing on my D700 would save my camera, but I was really worried about my tripod. It was the first real test of my new Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head. I had used it enough to know how amazingly good it was, but that was the problem. I couldn’t hardly stand to take such a (brand new!!) precision instrument into that hell for anything with moving parts. “This is why I have it” I thought, and so in I went. Finding a composition was the first battle. I hiked partly blinded for about a mile over the dunes (which was not a simple task) before I found the first area I liked, and the hiking was the easiest part! Once I found a shot I wanted, there was so much sand getting in my eyes I could barley look through the finder to compose it. I basically just had to point the camera in the right direction and hope. Between my watering eyes and extremely tired legs (I had been walking for most of the day, and I only had about 3 hours sleep) I wasn’t in great shape physically or mentally, but every time I topped a dune and saw another amazing possible shot I made myself keep going. At this point you may ask “why would you take yourself and over $7000 worth of gear in to that mess? In that kind of wind you might not get a sharp shot anyway.” The answer is simple……the light was incredible!!! The mix of great light, killer clouds, and sand blowing over the dunes made for some incredible opportunities. I just couldn’t walk away. I came back with the shot above and a few more images I love, so it was definitely worth it, and luckily nothing got ruined. Over the course of the day the tripod got so full of sand I was nervous it wouldn’t make it, but even though the leg locks were grinding like crazy it came through like a champ. The ball head stayed perfect and free of grinding throughout, and the legs come apart and I can clean them without much trouble. I had to dump the sand out of my bag, and I have some time working on the camera, but after that everything should be good as new.
Thanks for the inspiration Miles!!!!