Book Review: Valley of the Dunes – Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

by | December 1, 2005

NatureScapesIf we’re very observant and over time play out careful plans to document a part of the planet we call home, we may be able to photograph so well that others, too, will be moved to pay attention.

Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski, two Denver-based pro photographers with 25 years’ experience and a nearly equal number of national and international awards, have done just this. From thousands of images of southwestern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, they have selected the exact photos that support gently flowing natural history text and pull the viewer into the Valley of the Dunes.

There in the San Luis Valley, we see the 58th and most recently designated U.S. national park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Perusing the images, at first the mind senses an incongruous expanse of layered open spaces—snow masses at 13- to 14,000 feet beyond a 39-square mile expanse of finely articulated sand, the dunefield. The sand patterns are the product of colliding winds that cancel each other like cosmic standing waves dropping their loads into an ever-shifting ocean.

But then, through carefully crafted photos, we see other layers—stretches of amber-gold cottonwoods, pinks, lavenders, violets, blues and purples in the atmosphere by Indian Spring, emerald sedges, ruby cacti flowers, a tiny screaming Marsh Wren, Mule Deer mixed with Sandhill Cranes, elk and bison herds, the Ord’s Kangaroo Rat, a trail of tiny paw prints in the sand, and the classically marked and remarkably hairy Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle, found nowhere else on earth. And from the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains, the Rio Grande River and ancient aquifers come miraculous water, eco-plasma for all the diverse systems here that are homes to hundreds more species of animals and plants.

This relationship and preservation of all these parts is the crux of this book. Working together with a writer who shares their respect for this land, the photographers have created a coffee-table book that invites the reader to think, but not too hard. It’s more a case of feel. To this end, the text represents a fine balance of natural history and political fact leading up to the acquisition and conservation of the park and preserve. It’s just enough by writer-naturalist Audrey Benedict to keep the reader going for another page and then another. She writes, “Slowly, the unknown becomes familiar, and the familiar becomes a part of you—more precious for the knowing.”

With this, I agree. I am moved to pay attention to the Valley of the Dunes and at home, to better consider my own part.

Reviewed by Juli Wilcox

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