Great Sand Dunes National Park wasn't on our radar, and we really knew nothing about it. However, we were be passing close by in our travels, so we thought we'd check it out. Who knew the largest sand dunes in North America were in the mountains of Colorado?
While staying at San Luis State Park in Colorado, our plan was to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
It's about 15 miles from our campsite to the national park driving east toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Once in the park you start to get an idea of how big these dunes are. They are the tallest sand dunes in North America.
We stopped at the visitors center and watched a short movie on the dunes and the park. It was very well done, and when the movie is over, the shades on the windows automatically go up revealing the dunes.
Still, you really don't get perspective of the massive size until you start looking closer. Hey, those ant-looking things out there are people.
We had to get a closer look, so we drove down to the dunes parking lot. Linda grabbed her hiking poles and we walked out to the dunes.
Unfortunately, Medano Creek was not flowing. It was just a wide, wet sand creek bed. Here's a park video that shows why Medano Creek is a big deal here.
Still, kids were playing in the sand just like at the beach. In spring and early summer when the creek is flowing, people come here (at 8200 feet elevation) and play in the water just as if they were on the coast.
Looking up at the sand dunes, Linda & I had one thought. We have to climb to the top. There are people waaaaay up there on the 650 foot High Dune.
It's just so hard to get perspective. The walk from the parking lot to the base of the dunes is a long one. Then, to climb up, there are two challenges. First, which route to take. Second, hiking the steep dunes in soft sand.
We huffed and we puffed and we made several stops as we climbed.
Then there was a third challenge. The wind. It was relentless. We tied our hats on tight and our sunglasses helped keep the blowing sand out of our eyes.
It was not exactly the best environment for photo equipment either. So the camera stayed in the backpack most of the time.
We tried hiking below dune ridges to block the wind, but then we just got more sand in the face as it blew off the ridge tops down onto us. So it was better to hike on top of the ridges and fight the wind.
There were a few times we thought about turning around. But the higher we went, the more Linda would say "Look how far we've come", and the views kept getting better and better.
Our truck is way down there where the greenery meets the sand.
The higher we climbed, the better we got at choosing a path. There was really soft sand where we sank to our ankles, and then there was wetter harder sand. Once we learned to identify the more solid sand, the climb became a lot easier.
Here, Linda surveys for the next route.
These photos don't do the dunes justice. They just don't convey the magnificence, the size, and the depth between the dunes.
Finally, we reached the summit of High Dune. We looked out over the 30 square miles of sand. The tallest dune in this photo is Star Dune which is 750 feet tall from its base - it's the tallest dune here.
But, because the base of High Dune starts at a higher elevation, we were actually standing on the highest point in the dune field. Cool.
A quick panorama.
We took in the views as we realized this was one hike we would likely never do again. We happened to arrive at the peak when no one else was there. We could have sat down and enjoyed for a long time, but it was just too windy and the sand was pelting us.
I'll be spittin' grit for weeks.
We picked up a little trash while we were at the top and then we headed down.
Going down was fun. We didn't have to worry about a route so much and even the steep descent was easy. Large steps and even running made us feel like kids.
With her poles, Linda looked like she was sand skiing.
We kept going and going and going. It seemed like the little ant people at the bottom weren't getting any bigger. We realized what an accomplishment it was for us chunky, over-forty-year-olds to get to the top. That was a long, tough climb.
Here is a shot of the visitors center at the base of the mountains.
Back at the truck, we emptied our hiking boots of sand and generally brushed off. We could feel the grit all over our exposed skin.
But we were exhilarated by our climb and fascinated and amazed by these massive sand dunes in the mountains. What a neat place.
Before exiting the park, we made a stop to do the short half-mile Montville Nature Trail. We figured we at least had another half-mile in us.
The trail has marked points of interest and you can get a guide in the visitors center for 75 cents. But they also had guides at the trailhead that you could use for free as long as you returned them when finished.
I have to say, this park has to be the most public friendly national park I've ever been to. It's open 24/7 all year long and there are few restrictions on where you can go.
We hiked the trail along the Mosca Creek and learned a little about the pioneers that came over the mountains through the canyon. Can you imagine what they must have thought when they descended out of the woods to find this?
A view of the 13,340 foot Mt. Herard from the trail.
One last shot of the dunes before we finished our little hike.
Now we were plum tuckered. That little half-mile loop finished us off. So we headed home.
But on the way out, we had to stop for some Mule Deer beside the road.
They didn't seem to be concerned with us at all.
We made it home where it was definitely time for showers. The wind was relentless and Linda wasn't liking it one bit.
But you know, it occurred to me. How might a place get 750 foot sand dunes? Hmmm. Perhaps some pretty strong, pretty consistent winds? Could be.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is certainly an interesting place. Sand dunes in the Rocky Mountains is certainly nothing we expected. Not a whole lot of time is necessary to explore the park, and it's definitely worth a visit.