Zapata Photo Workshops Photo Essay

Students in the Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Photo Workshop line up with big glass at Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.

I’ve had a week to catch my breath after teaching three photo workshops in the San Luis Valley in March. The first was a half-day as part of the Monte Vista Crane Festival followed by a sandhill crane workshop at Zapata Ranch with Michael Forsberg, then a student workshop with Second Baptist High School, from Houston,Texas. It’s an honor to work with Mike Forsberg, one of the top conservation photographers anywhere and an ILCP fellow; and working with the Phillips family at Zapata is about as good as it gets. Tess, David, Duke, Janet, Asta, Carla, Chef Mike, and the whole staff blend a remarkable visitor experience with conservation ranching at a world-class venue. I also made a few images along the way, so here goes:

Even the Zapata sign has panache.

Greater sandhill crane dance. Grus canadensis

red-winged blackbird, cattail

Red-winged Blackbird In Song : Prints Available

 A red-winged blackbird male sings from his cattail perch in Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.
Agelaius phoeniceus
ducks, sandhill cranes

Duck Flight : Prints Available

Several thousand ducks take flight as sandhill cranes observe. After things settled down a refuge volunteer explained that a bald eagle had flown over the ducks, causing quite a stir.  For several weeks in March, Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is the most important resting and re-fueling stop on the Greater sandhill crane migration path. These birds travel from Bosque Del Apache NWR in New Mexico to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and back in spring and fall. 
medano ranch, zapata ranch, the nature conservancy

Ranch House and Cottonwood Tree : Prints Available

 A massive cottonwood tree frames the main ranch house at the historic Medano Ranch, an 1820's cattle ranch. Zapata Ranch is owned by The Nature Conservancy and managed by the Phillips family as a sustainable bison and cattle ranch adjoining Great Sand Dunes National Park.
sangree de cristo range, san luis valley

Blanca Storm : Prints Available

 A spring storm passes the Blanca group in the southern Sangre De Cristo Range as sun lights the base of the mountains. Lone cottonwoods in the San Luis Valkley indicate an underground spring.

A pair of Greater sandhill cranes return to roost after sunset. Grus canadensis

Michael Forsberg photographs an uncluttered night sky near the entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

Zapata Ranch in pre-dawn light.

Sisters Gini and Chris Cunningham at an old house that we photographed in the valley.

Mike Forsberg and Duke Phillips, a pair of visionaries.

A backpacker makes his way up the dunes for a true wilderness experience.

Greater sandhill cranes in flight. Safe travels to Yellowstone!

Medano Creek flows early for this time of spring. Mount Herard, iconic peak of the Sand Dunes is the backdrop.

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