Lockdown Adventures – Mesa Verde National Park

After exploring the Great Sand Dunes National Park, I made my way west to the town of Durango. After spending the night in a hotel, I got up very early to start the 40 minute drive to Mesa Verde National Park. I wanted to make sure I had a full day to explore what I expected to be a pretty magical place – which it absolutely was.

Mesa Verde National Park isn’t the biggest or most spectacular of the national parks, but it does have a very unique claim to fame that makes it totally worth the visit! The park is home to roughly 600 cliff dwellings from the Pueblo people who lived in them from 600 to 1300 CE. The dwellings are a photographers dream – but a word to the wise, they only photograph well at certain parts of the day (think sunset / golden hour). The harsh light of mid-day makes it really difficult to capture these dwellings, so I recommend using the day time to take a break from photography and just explore. If you are like me however, and don’t have the ability to wait for better light, there’s always B&W photography to save the day.

Unfortunately for me, Mesa Verde is one of the National Parks I visited that had limited activity availability due to COVID and hiking to many of the cliff dwellings wasn’t possible. However, the overlooks scattered throughout the park are pretty incredible and a visit is well worth it, even if it is just to access those. The Mesa Top Loop Road (6 miles) and the Cliff Palace Loop Road (6 miles) are great drives and allow for stops at all the great overlooks. Even outside of COVID, the cliff dwellings are also closed in the winter and early spring, but don’t let that deter you! I ended up spending a full day in the park and wished I had planned to stay another night to have been able to see the park at sunset and night. I look forward to correcting my mistake the next time I’m in town!

Lockdown Adventures – Great Sand Dunes National Park

I started my US National Park Adventure from Dallas, TX, traveling west for what felt like an endless time. For those who have driven across Texas before, you’ll know what I mean. However, there are multiple opportunities to make the journey more interesting. I highly recommend a stop in Amarillo, TX – and come hungry.

The Big Texan is a must do. I’ve never seen anything quite so Texan. The building, personality and food are all larger than life. Come in for a big steak and enjoy!

Just outside of Amarillo, make sure to stop at the legendary Cadillac Ranch. A open air art exhibit consisting of a series of 10 old Cadillacs stuck halfway into the ground and spray-painted with various designs by the willing visitors who pass through. You can either bring your own spray paint or purchase some from the vendors who set up shop outside the entrance. Parking is right off the highway, entrance is free and access is via a short, flat walk.

After leaving Amarillo, I made my way along the roughly 5 hour route to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Great Sand Dunes is open 24 hours a day all year long. The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America and truly does feel like you are visiting an otherworldly desert. I was there in August, so didn’t have to ford the Medano Creek to reach the dunes as you do in the spring and summer time. I highly recommend hiking one of the dunes (there are 5 in total). The high dune appears the largest from the car park and is a great choice. It is nearly 700 feet high and takes between 2 and 4 hours roundtrip depending on stopping times and fitness level. The altitude is pretty high, so if you aren’t used to that make sure to take your time. In addition to hiking, there are numerous vantages to take beautiful photographs. I will definitely be returning to spend more time photographing this beautiful park!

Lockdown Adventures – US National Parks

Travel has looked a little different for all of us over the last year. With much of the world on lockdown and access to the outside world limited, I had to find new ways to satisfy my need for travel and adventure. Fortunately, my new “work from home” schedule meant that I had the freedom to get a little creative with my approach. Thus, I embarked on a three month driving tour of the western half of the United States of America. I focused my adventures on the US National Parks to take advantage of photographing some of the most beautiful land in the world, while still naturally keeping my “social distance” from others. I would end up hitting 12 National Parks, along with numerous National Monuments and State Parks on my roughly 5,000 mile journey. I can honestly say that while I can’t wait for the world to open up again, I’m grateful for this time I had to explore a little closer to home. Over my next few posts, I will detail my journey, experiences and photography adventures at each of the National Parks. I hope you will find these thoughts and tips helpful as you embark on your own National Park adventure.

Travel Tip: I highly recommend that anyone who wants to visit more than a few National Parks in a year get an America the Beautiful pass. The pass includes entrance to all National Parks and Federal Recreation lands (over 2,000 sites) for up to 4 adults in a single vehicle. I was able to use it throughout my entire trip and am now a loyal subscriber! These passes can be easily purchased upon arrival at most entrance stations in the National Parks for $80/year.