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Valley of the Dunes

by Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski
and text by Audrey DeLella Benedict

View "Valley of the Dunes" Slide Show

A photographic collection of Colorado's San Luis Valley including Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Our first photography book about this region, Valley of the Cranes (1988), had the working title, “Bigger than Connecticut”. The six counties of the San Luis Valley sprawl 122 by 74 miles, literally making it larger than many New England states. Valley of the Dunes is our expansive follow-up coffee table book of photographs taken lovingly over a twenty-five year span.

Above the 7600 foot San Luis Valley floor, eleven mountain peaks tower above 14,000 feet, ringing the largest alpine valley in the world. The San Luis Valley is our home-away-from-home... one of our favorite places in the world to photograph.

* Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

At 750 feet above the San Luis Valley floor, the highest sand dunes in North America are a prominent feature in the San Luis Valley. Upgraded in 2004 to National Park status, the dunes encompass more than 30 square miles, with alpine lakes and tundra, grasslands, ghost trees, wetlands, and -- of course a great sand sea that is a magnet for recreation. In summer, water flows along Medano Creek, and people flock to the dunes to hike, backpack, camp, and enjoy the scenery. Flowers, wildlife, and fascinating geology are delightful discoveries for tourists and are some of our most memorable photography subjects.

* Alamosa, Monte Vista, and Baca National Wildlife Refuges

Wetlands at the Alamosa and Monte Vista Refuges provide critical habitat for migrating and nesting species of waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. Duck hunting in winter and wildlife viewing year around are popular recreational activities for refuge visitors. Along with much of the San Luis Valley's agricultural land, the refuges attract sandhill cranes for weeks at a time in spring and fall. Every year the Monte Vista Crane Festival celebrates their spring return to the San Luis Valley. These ancient long-legged birds depend on remnant crops and open water, as well as protected roosting and loafing areas in the valley of the cranes. The new Baca National Wildlife Refuge was created on more than 50,000 acres of wetlands and sagebrush conveyed through The Nature Conservancy to the U.S. government and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

* The Nature Conservancy's role in the San Luis Valley's Conservation Efforts

In 1999 The Nature Conservancy purchased the 100,000 acre Medano/Zapata Ranch adjacent to Great Sand Dunes National Monument, joining the wetland protection efforts of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited and private landowners in Colorado Partners for Fish and Wildlife. The Medano/Zapata Ranch is base for workshop programs for The Nature Conservancy including photography workshops taught by Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski.

* The Baca Ranch Acquisition

Originally granted land in New Mexico, Luis Maria Baca's family exchanged part of it for this 100,000 acre plot in 1860. For the first time since then, land from the Baca has come under public control.

* The U.S. Forest Service added to the Rio Grande National Forest, including 14,165 foot Kit Carson Peak, Challenger Point, and Columbia Point. The latter two features are a tribute to the memory of the space shuttle crews.

* Wildlife, Plants, and History in the San Luis Valley

Evidence of nomadic hunters and ancient bison antiquus 11,000 years ago is notable in the San Luis Valley's archaeology. From there the diverse and fascinating cultural history of this southern Colorado region evolves with the appearance of Native American, Spanish, Hispanic, and European inhabitants.

Unusual flora and fauna such as the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, giant sand treader cricket, slender spider flower, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, and Southwestern willow flycatcher are found in the San Luis Valley. Other, less rare, species include bald eagle, elk, pronghorn antelope, prairie sunflower, sandhill crane, bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lion, and black bear.

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P.O. Box 370422
Denver, CO    80237
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