Colorado claims four national parks, including the Great Sand Dunes. These natural sand dunes lie at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and are the largest sand dunes in North America. These sands are 750 feet tall!
When lakes in the valley of these mountains dried up during an extreme drought, they left behind piles of sand. Winds blew the sands to the base of these mountains, where they have remained for thousands of years. There is enough vegetation surrounding the dunes that they have remained in tack and are not at a great risk of receding.
This is good news for many reasons, including that we get to play on these great sand hills!
To get to the dunes you first have to cross Medano Creek, which flows from the mountains to the base of the dunes. Children splash around in the water and even bring inner tubes to float down the stream, especially during times of “surge flow.” This is when water from the mountains is released quickly, producing waves of flowing water.
Because the sand can be so hot in the summertime, this stream is great relief for everyone. I loved walking through it. The water was a refreshing way to end my time spent at the dunes.
If you plan on visiting the sand dunes, protect your feet! The dunes offer no shade, and the direct sunlight heats up the sand very quickly. They can reach temperatures of 150°F. Wearing long socks is a great way to protect your feet while you climb. I was lucky enough to visit on a cloudy day, making it cool enough to walk on without burning my feet. There really is nothing like feeling the sand between your toes!
My favorite thing to do is climb up sand dunes and then run down them as fast as you can. There are plenty of opportunities to do this here. Many people even bring sleds so they can speed down the dunes. You can also climb to the top and just sit and enjoy the view. The environment around the dunes are vast, from the mountains to the tundra to the forest, so there are great views in every direction.
If you have more time to spend at the park, try camping. There is a campground at this national park, and it will give you the opportunity to experience the park after dark. The high elevation and open skies make the Great Sand Dunes one of the best places to view the Milky Way. Thousands of stars are visible, making for an experience unlike any other.
Aside from climbing the sand dunes and camping, there are hiking trails at this park. There are Forested and Alpine trails, ranging from two to eleven miles. For the full list, reference the National Park Services’s website.
This is a really great park for all ages because there are so many different ways to enjoy the dunes, and the environment surrounding them. Let out your inner child and enjoy everything this park has to offer.
Until next time, happy exploring!