Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

June 3rd and 4th ~ Great Sand Dunes National Park

Our weather had taken a turn, and we experienced a gusher of a rain storm on the drive here. 

Checking in at the Visitors Center, we were once again frustrated with a movie not working. Evidently new equipment had been ordered, but they were not sure when it would arrive.

Map of Great Sand Dunes National Park

The campground inside the park was almost full. We could find a spot that our 24′ RV would fit in, but nothing was still available that would house Dick and Karen’s larger 32′ rig.

Oasis Campground was just outside the park and we managed to grab the last two spots they had. Certainly not fancy and the only water in sight was falling from the heavens. For one night, it was just fine.

As the sun finally started to break through the clouds, we were treated by some stunning views of the oddly beautiful combination of desert dunes and high mountain peaks. Right before us were grass scrags, backed by enormous sand dunes setting in deep shadows, supported by snow-capped mountains further beyond.

Sand dunes and snow-capped peaks – Cleveland Peak, 13,414′ and Mount Herard, 13,297′

Truly a sight worth seeing.

The view further to the right

By the next morning, the sun was shining brightly and we headed back inside the park to explore.

First stop was at the trailhead parking lot just north of the Visitor Center. A short walk and the dunes open up right in front of you. None of us felt the urge to hike for a couple of hours up shifting sands to reach the top, but rumor has it that the views are impressive.

Miles and miles of sand dunes to climb on and explore

Sand boarding and sand surfing are favored sports for youngsters and those young at heart. I think that Tim would have loved trying his hand at it.

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Returning to the Visitor Center where the movie had been resurrected, we relaxed in the cool comfort and learned about these shifting sands.

Here are a few tidbits of information we learned about the park:

  1. The traditional Ute word for the Great Sand Dunes is Saa waap maa nache,“sand that moves.”
  2. The sands can get VERY hot – up to 150 degrees, so wear closed toed shoes, and don’t bring pets onto the sand midday.
  3. The sand covers over 30 square miles. There are no fixed paths over the sand, so you can wander to your heart’s content, but be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen and bring water.
  4. Star Dune, rising 750 feet (229 m) from the base to top, is the tallest dune in North America. Average round trip hiking time to Star Dune is about 5 hours.

The park posted this warning:

“Summer air temperatures are pleasant at this high elevation, but during afternoon hours the sand surface can reach 150F degrees, and dangerous thunderstorms can develop. Plan to hike the dunes in early morning or evening to avoid heat exhaustion, burned feet, or fatal lightning strikes.”

Medano Pass Primitive Road was to be our next destination. We had been told that a 4×4 would be needed to go past “point of no return”. With our all-wheel-drive Subaru, we were confident we could do at least the first portion of this drive, but shortly after the “point of no return” signs, the sand became quite soft and we decided to turn around.

From a different perspective

Summation: All in all, the few scenes of the sand dunes we witnessed were impressive, but everything we experienced could have been done in a couple of hours. Better planning at this destination would have perhaps made the visit better. Sandboards can be rented at Oasis and I imagine in our younger days this would have been great fun to try. Hiking to the top of the dunes seemed too strenuous, but in hindsight I feel that we missed a unique opportunity. A 4×4 Jeep can be rented which would yield access into most of the more scenic portions of the park.

Next Stop: Pagosa Springs

GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful that we got to witness Mother Nature’s mood swings. From a pounding rainstorm that wetted the dunes, emphasizing the shapes and shadows, followed by streaming sunshine peaking through the clouds giving us a memorable vista.

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our "next chapter". At a stage in life where traveling the world, taking pictures, and sharing our adventures with friends and family will be our dream come true.
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11 Responses to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

  1. An amazing place. You’ve seen a lot of special places so far on this trip.

    janet

    Like

  2. joliesattic says:

    It’s such a marvel to see such contrasting features from one spot.

    Like

  3. Mike Alesko says:

    What interesting — If a tad bit chilling — place names there: Point of no Return, Escape Dunes, and Sangre de Cristo (blood of Christ) Mountains….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. No room at the inn ~ the downfall of summer traveling :0) Looks like a lovely place.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Widdershins says:

    Just did a bit of reading on the geologic history of the dunes … truly fascinating. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve — A Note From Abroad – Nomad Advocate

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