Cool Places Part 1: Sand, Sea and Scrubland

If like me you live in a city, it's easy to forget what the wilderness actually looks like. Prompted by a discussion in the Map Crow discord, I decided to put together some images of cool places I've been. I'm not a particularly skilled or experienced photographer, but I think these capture some ideas that are maybe a bit more unique than what immediately comes to mind when trying to remember what the wilderness looks like when sitting at home. Hopefully some of these are a bit unique to where I live, and so might be new to people who live elsewhere and spark some inspiration. If anyone else wants to make a similar blog post, I'd love to link to it.

This is part 1 because I got bored of doing this halfway through putting it together.

I've also made some previous products around specific natural environments. Don't get bogged down (text available for free under "Demo") talks about peat bogs, and Rain Check, some environmental challenges for 5e (full text in preview).

Feel free to use any of these images for whatever if they happen to be useful.

Coastal Sand Dunes

Here these extend further inland than most people realize. You get large hills that are sandy underfoot, but still pretty solid, and strange and twisty trees. These woodlands are generally fairly open, with hills that are easy to navigate.

Strange and twisty trees on a hillside

Even very large hills might be sand underfoot.

The top of a sandy hill, high above a city

Closer to shore the dunes are bare, swept by the wind, although smaller plants hold them together. The ground is unstable and always shifting. On windy days the sand blows sharply into your eyes when you face the wrong way.

Sand dunes by the sea, dotted with plants a few inches high

By the sea, fog is prevalent. Between the hills and the sea, it is much colder, and even in the middle of summer may not get very warm. On particularly windy days, the land can shift dramatically. Things can get buried, or uncovered.

Sand dunes that have shifted to swallow the road and road signs.

Rocky coast

Sharp cliffs to the sea; the sea is only accesible with careful climbing, but it's possible to get there. The danger of a fall, if you go off course. If it's windy, trees here are few and small, the wind is aggressive. But as soon as you round the corner there's dense forest again - or not, depending on the place.

Rocky cliffs going down to the sea. Forest at the top of the cliffs. Photo taken near the previous one, showing a dead arbutus tree next to a live one in the forground: twisted and mostly stripped of leaves. The side of a rocky cliff in the foreground, rocky hills with light vegetation behind. In the distance, the sea.

Even with the wind keeping the forest clear, though, the terrain can be varied and treacherous. These two photos are a few minutes down the same path as the latter photo:

A narrow, steep path through two rocks, that are big enough to fill the image. A path cut through short, spindly trees and bushes, that are nevertheless tall enough to just block sight.

When the rocky coast is closer to sea level, you get some cool patterns. Imagine this scaled up really big - I remember such things from my childhood, before I had a camera phone.

A rock beach by the sea, with large round indentations worn away.


Dry and hot, but not devoid of agriculture. Irrigation happens in the modern day, at a steep cost to the environment. Cattle are prevalent. It's hot, with little to no shade, and you have to think about water. Views are fantastic, and you can see a stranger as soon as they round a hill. In the past presumably horses would have been important for getting around - this isn't quite the sort of places Westerns were set, but not too far off.

Dry hills in the distance, in the foreground a narrow dirt path surrounded by dead grass. A dry and mostly treeless valley, viewed from a small dirt hill reinforced with wood.

These photos was taken with the cool "train window" filter:

A single tree on dry dirt in front of equally dry hills Out the window of the train, seeing the train curve to the right, surrounded by brown dry hills.

Even with more vegetation, it can get dangerously hot with no shade, as I learned on a hike I had to cut short here:

A dry but more forested path through a valley

Volcanic hills

These "morro" hills look cool and stand alone, remants of an earlier mountain range. You can climb them for a good view.

Looking out over a valley, this time with a town in it, a series of conical but isolated hills go off into the distance.

This one, close to the sea, is bare and rocky, they can look stranger up close, especially in the fog. Climbing them might require special skills: what strange beings live at the top or in the crvices? Only the brave and bold might go find out.

A rocky hill by the sea, a beach in the foreground, a small blue lifeguard station in the distance and a school bus. The top of the hill is shrouded in fog. Another side of the hill. The rock of the hill blends into the ground, made of large boulders with a small person in the distance.

If you look closely, the wind has worn strange burrow-like holes in the rock. What mythical creature might live there?

Cliff face, with small burrow-like holes way up top.

Bonus pictures of the remnants of blasting.

A cliff face with a hole and lines radiating out. A similar series of radiating lines has a plant in it.

Marshy areas

I have made an entire supplement about bogs, which you can find here.

I also have some pictures of salt flats: Many birds, lots of visibility in some places, short shrubs in others - up to about head height, tall enough to hide behind. The path is a boardwalk - probably partly to protect the environment, but I suspect you'd sink into the muck if you strayed too far.

A boardwalk in the foreground curves off to the left. In the far distance, hills have their tops shrouded in fog. In between are salt flats: very short vegetation with patches of water visible in between From the same boardwalk, which goes forward towards the same hills, but to the left this time the ground is covered in knee-high schrubs.
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Written Oct 24 2021