As dedicated trail users begin making their summer travel plans, thoughts often turn to the vast landscapes found within our national park system. While many people have their western favorites, such as Yosemite or the Grand Tetons, a possibility some may not have considered is the newest addition to the roster, Great Sand Dunes National Park, in Colorado.

Upgraded in 2004 from monument to National Park status, the park encompasses snow-capped mountains, deep green forests, and the highest sand dunes in North America. The peaks rise to elevations of 14,000 feet in this park, which numbers 58 in the national system and is located just north of the Colorado-New Mexico border.

Wildlife sightings are common, and include mule deer, elk, coyotes, golden and bald eagles, ravens and magpies. A safety advantage hikers and equestrians have is that mountain bikes are prohibited on the dunes and trails, as they are at all national parks.

A group called “Friends of the Dunes” hosts several summer events, including sand castle building and kite flying contests, concerts, seminars and photography workshops. For more information, contact the Visitor Center at 719-378-6399. Detailed information on planning a visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park is available at

Dunes Come to Los Olivos

For those who would prefer to visit Los Olivos than Colorado, the dune’s dramatic landscape can be enjoyed in a summer exhibition at the Wildling Art Museum. “Between Light and Shadow: Great Sand Dunes National Park” will be on view from June 21 to September 10, featuring the color photographs of John B. Weller.

Organized by the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, the exhibition is the result of three and a half years of effort by Weller. During that period, he visited Great Sand Dunes National Park for a week every month to document the variety of landscapes found there.

Based in Boulder, Colorado, Weller is a writer and nature photographer who studied philosophy and environmental economics at Stanford University. Braving temperatures that fluctuated between minus 28 degrees to highs near 140 degrees, Weller lugged his equipment in a 115-pound pack. The result is a body of work that already is being compared to that of Ansel Adams.

Weller’s book of essays and photography, entitled “Great Sand Dunes National Park: Between Light and Shadow,” was published in 2004 and won the “Best Book Mountain Image Award” at the Banff Book Festival that same year.

While most trail users will never carry 115 pounds worth of photography equipment out into the wilderness, it’s gratifying to see the results of someone who did.

Mark Your Calendar

Saturday, June 17

Lompoc Valley Riders

Members Ride

Romain’s Cross Creek Ranch

Enjoy a day in the saddle and lunch on the trail at this working cattle ranch. Bring sack lunch, beverage. For membership information contact Elly Robb at 733-4040. For ride reservations and information contact trail boss Bill Blodgett at 717-2260.

Sunday, June 18

Free lecture by photographer

John B. Weller

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

2901 Nojoqui Street Los Olivos

“Great Sand Dunes National Park: A Case for the Human Need for Conservation.” Attendees are invited to opening reception for accompanying exhibition at nearby Wildling Art Museum following lecture. For more information call 688-1082, or visit

Tuesday, June 20

The Jepson Club

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Arroyo Room, 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm

Bring your Jepson Manual (available in the Garden shop) and learn to identify plants found along the trail. Honing observation skills and focusing on surprising details are among the many joys of “keying” Jepson. Some general keying and tips will start the session, then focus on a group of plants. Registration ends June 19. Members $15, non-members $20, students $10. For more information contact the Garden at 682-4726, or visit

Saturday, June 24

Los Padres Trail Riders

Saddle Fitting Clinic

El Capitan Ranch

Free to members

Two-hour clinic with saddle expert Kraig Kiwak, who will address sore back and saddle fitting problems. Following the lecture, limited number of participants may bring their horse and tack for personalized fitting (usually a $125 service, but reduced at this event for one-time special of $50). For Trail Riders membership information contact Sara Tidd at 964-9852. To schedule your horse for saddle fitting (limited spaces, first-come, first-served) contact Lorraine Argo at 686-8781.

Saturday, June 24

Sierra Club Hike

Scenic Summerland

Easy, 1.7 miles round-trip

Walk around hills and streets of Summerland. Leave from Lookout Park at approximately 9:15 am. Long pants recommended for walking through tall grass. Bring light snack and water. For more information contact Gerry at 964-5411.

Saturday, June 24

Lotusland Foundation

Summer Twilight Tour

5:30 pm – Sunset (8:15 pm)

Walk the trails of Lotusland’s gardens and celebrate Madame Ganna Walska’s birthday when twilight creates magical quality of light. Mid-tour wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served, then all will gather for birthday cake and toast to Madame Walska at sundown. Choose between self-guided or docent-led tours; docents will be available throughout the garden to answer questions. Members $35, non-members $45. For more information call 969-9990. Online reservation form available at

Saturday, July 1

Sierra Club Hike

Buena Vista Trail


4 miles round-trip

1,000-foot elevation gain/loss

Depart from San Ysidro trailhead at approximately 9:15 am. Go up San Ysidro Canyon to catwalk road over to Buena Vista Canyon, down to Old Pueblo Trail. Bring water and light lunch. For more information contact Paul at 964-9032.

Sunday, July 2

Sierra Club Hike

Cold Spring Water Tunnel

Difficult, 4 miles round-trip

Hike up Cold Springs Trail to forgotten historic water tunnel. Steep at times. Bring water and snack. For more information contact Keith at 965-9963 or 681-0916.

Tuesday, July 4

Los Padres Trail Riders

Santa Barbara Fourth of July Parade

Trail Riders members wear club parade outfits and decorate their horses for our nation’s birthday celebration. For membership information contact Sara Tidd at 964-9852, for parade information contact Barbara Wolf at 964-3458.