Ward, CO: Cloud Ridge Publishing, 2010. Revised edition. Color photographs, map. 150 pages. 8 ½” x 11”. $24.95 paperback. First published by Fulcrum Publishing, 2005.
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What’s the next best thing to being in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado? How about sitting back in your favorite comfort place and opening the cover of Valley of the Dunes? Or, how about gathering family or friends around the table? Whatever you do, treating yourself to Valley of the Dunes will hold you over until you can make your way there in person, whether it is the first time or an eager repeat visit. If you are fortunate enough to live here, Valley of the Dunes will win plenty of approving nods as you turn the pages.
In this revised edition, award-winning photographers Bob Rozinski and Wendy Shattil, and author Audrey DeLella Benedict, take the reader on a guided tour of one of the most special places in the world. It is a place where people come from all over the world to play, paint, pray, write poetry and prose, and to eke out a living. Those who come and must leave, look over their shoulder wishing they could stay. Those born and cultured here can really never leave; many can only go away to visit other places.
In their previous book, Valley of the Cranes (with Virginia McConnell Simmons, 1988), the photographers focused their cameras on the sandhill crane migration through the valley. On the cover page they brought two worlds together in the iconic image of a sandhill crane landing deftly in a steambath that captures the part of the valley that is about light, seasons, wildlife, and water. People say that even the tens of thousands of migrating sandhill cranes seem to be arriving earlier in the spring and staying longer in the fall because they like it here so much. Valley of the Dunes illustrates why.
What is it about the San Luis Valley and the great sand dunes? Let photographers Bob Rozinski and Wendy Shattil show you. Let writer Audrey DeLella Benedict tell you. Together, the three of them enlighten, educate, and entertain with the beauty, science, culture, and story of the area.
On film and pixel Rozinski and Shattil take the observer on a vivid walkabout. They begin with an iconic cover page of the highest North American alpine desert in the world—the San Luis Valley. There are breathtaking snow-covered peaks in the background, desert sand dunes in the foreground, and in between, foothills darkened by shadows. The image gives the observer the impression of two worlds juxtaposed. In the San Luis Valley they are one world. In the San Luis Valley the dunes are the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. They are protected for all by the towering, mighty Sangre de Cristo Range and its mountain peaks.
Following the cover page, there are one hundred and fifty more pages of awesome photography of fauna and flora—panoramic shots as well as close-ups. The photographic composition, action, detail, and color rendition give the reader an experience second only to actually being there. When first published in 2005, the book was named the best photography book by USABookNews.com.
While Rozinski and Shattil give the reader a sensational photographic tour of the San Luis Valley and dunes, Benedict uses her extraordinary skill with language to describe their complexity, beauty, and meaning. She explores both their natural and cultural history. In addition to plants and animals, she describes the climate, hydrology, and geology of the area. She writes of the various peoples with ties to the valley and dunes. She recounts political and legal dramas and local mysteries. Were it not for its vivid images, Valley of the Dunes is so full of information that it could be mistaken for an academic textbook. It is more than that, though. It is an intellectual work of art by the photographers and the writer. Benedict adds her own aesthetic view, to be sure, to the book. She gives her pen poetic freedom—at a public event she admitted the book was a love letter to one of her favorite places.
Benedict is not the only one smitten. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, at the time a U.S. senator, wrote the foreword to the first edition of the book—which was retained for this revised version. He penned: “I have always told people that the San Luis Valley is more than home to me. It is a spiritual place unlike any other on earth.”
There is something for everyone in Valley of the Dunes. Readers like me will recognize our home place with every turn of the page and be reminded of what this place means to us and how much we love living here. Readers who have been fortunate to visit the valley and the dunes will reflect on their unique beauty. And readers who have never been to this place will be drawn to come in person to look, see, and feel for themselves.
But, in the meantime, take Valley of the Dunes in hand and sit back and relax in your favorite place, study and appreciate the book’s cover page, and then turn the page and start your virtual trip. Have a good time!
Reginaldo G. Garcia grew up in the San Luis Valley near the great sand dunes. He graduated from high school in Antonito and went on to study at Regis College in Denver, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the Texas Research Institute of Mental Sciences at Houston. After earning his doctorate in clinical psychology, he enjoyed careers in clinical and consulting psychology and preschool –12th grade migrant student education administration. Garcia is currently an administrator and researcher in the public health field. A board member of the Friends of the Dunes, he enjoys photography, backpacking, and fly-fishing. He makes his home in the San Luis Valley and Mobile, Alabama.