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.
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.
Truly a sight worth seeing.
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.
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.
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:
- The traditional Ute word for the Great Sand Dunes is Saa waap maa nache,“sand that moves.”
- The sands can get VERY hot – up to 150 degrees, so wear closed toed shoes, and don’t bring pets onto the sand midday.
- 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.
- 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.
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.