During a recent trip to Utah, my wife, Monica, and I drove from Capitol Reef National Park to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park near Kanab. The weather had gone from sunny, cool, and breezy to cloudy and windy as we raced to get to the dunes to make some images at sunset. Pulling in to the parking lot things did not look promising. It was getting grayer and windier by the minute. Stepping out of the car and experiencing the conditions from the viewing platform, Monica wished me well on my little adventure and promptly headed back to the warmth of the vehicle.
Looking around, I saw only a family of four braving the elements and heading back toward me from the dune field. Carrying both my camera bodies, a backpack with a couple of bottles of water, and energy bars was more of a trek than I had estimated as I trudged through the loose sand up the spine of the largest dune. It was slow going and the higher I climbed, the windier it got. The grit was peppering my hands, face, and going down the back of my shirt. I slipped my cameras under my jacket for protection and eventually made my way to the top. The view was spectacular and I was getting a free dermabrasion!
My initial thought was to get out of the wind by going to the opposite side of the dune, but that was where all the sand was going. I finally sat on the upslope and did the best I could to turn my back to the blowing sand. Just as I was starting to feel that I had wasted our time and my energy to get to this location for sunset, the clouds close to the horizon opened to reveal a wonderful light casting interesting shadows all around me. The wind continued unabated, but the images before me were too good to pass up, so I unzipped my jacket and brought my cameras into the elements.
For the next 30 minutes, I watched as the wind and sun created amazing patterns on the dunes where just a few minutes before there was nothing of interest. I kept making images until the light played out and I made my way out of the dune field. By the time I got back to the walkway to the parking lot, I was spent. I sat on the sidewalk and emptied my shoes as best I could. I could feel the grit inside my clothes and knew the sand had taken a toll on my gear, but I just wasn't sure how much.
Fortunately, the damage to my cameras was minimal and a good night's rest took care of my fatigue. The red sand from the dunes stuck with us for several days after the trip and I can still hear it when I rotate some of the dials on my gear. It would have been easy, maybe even smart, to not go onto the dunes that day. There was no real indication that the light would be good. The blowing sand was not good for equipment or photographer. I had to put a lot of effort into getting to the top of the dune, staying there, and then huffing back to the parking lot. Once I saw the images, the effort and discomfort were more than justified. Sometimes, in the face of uncertainty, all we can do is stand and persevere.