During our transition day from Santa Fe to Buena Vista, Kathy and I stopped at Great Sand Dunes National Park in south-central Colorado.
Originally designated as a National Monument in 1932, the Great Sand Dunes was promoted to a National Park and Preserve by Congress in 2004.
With 30 square miles of dunes the park contains the largest dune field, as well as the tallest sand dunes in North America. The highest, Star Dune, rises roughly 750 feet above the San Luis Valley floor.
Visitors are free to walk wherever they want on the dunes. Other popular activities include sandboarding, skiing and sledding. In fact, there’s a shop just outside of the park entrance that will rent all the equipment you need to participate in any of those unique sports.
The park is more than just sand, however. There are 150,000 acres of grasslands, wetlands, dunes, forests, alpine lakes, and three peaks that exceed 13,000 feet in elevation, all contained within the park boundaries. As you might expect, there are several hiking trail opportunities as well.
Visitors should be aware of extreme sand temperatures. Although summer afternoon air temps may only read in the eighties, the surface of the sand can reach a scorching temperature of around 140 degrees! As a result, the park encourages people to wear closed shoes. Gaiters would definitely be of great help in keeping sand out of your boots as well.
You should also note that walking in the sand can be somewhat difficult. When walking uphill your feet tend to slide back downhill with each step. However, running and jumping back down the dunes like a kid makes it all worthwhile.
Here are a few scenes from the dunes:
Map: Sangre de Cristo Mountains Trails Illustrated Map
The Essential Guide to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve provides detailed information on camping, hiking, backpacking, climbing, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, horseback riding and dunes snowboarding. The book also covers dozens of close-by activities and fun attractions that will interest anyone, such as a soak in a hot springs pool beneath the stars, or a tour of a working bison ranch, or the experience of visiting an alligator farm!