Great Sand Dunes National Park is geologic curiosity of the American West.
At over 700 feet (213 m), these dunes are the tallest in North America, but it’s their location, not their size, that makes them so interesting. Without a desert environment to belong to, the dunes occupy a six mile wide pocket nestled into the foothills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. It’s believed that snowmelt and rain water washed the sand down from the mountains only to have strong winds from the southwest sweep it back up there. These competing forces collected the sand into one big heap which, from first impression, seems sorely out of place.
Medano Creek runs between the sand and mountains forming the eastern border of the dune field. Its soft shallow bottom makes it ideal for kids to play around in. The creek also exhibits a rare hydrologic condition called “pulse flow” where waves of increased flowrate travel downstream.
Off the Beaten Path:
Backpacking is permitted in both the mountains and the dunes. I appreciate the sense of solitude I get when camping in dunes. Unfortunately, the wind whipped up in the early morning before sunrise, and since I was camping without a tent I had to stumble awake and relocate.
Attention Off-Road Vehicle Owners: Medano Pass Primitive Road is an outrageously scenic northern access route which connects down to the parks visitor center in the south. This is the only thru road in the park. High ground clearance and 4WD required – consider timing your visit with the Fall color change during late September / early October.
For more information on my visit, check out my post.