Great Sand Dunes photo Steve Davis
I visited this park in March 2014. The park is located at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south-central Colorado. It is west of Interstate 25, north of US Highway 160, and east of Colorado 17. Access into the park is excellent, but is a little off the beaten track. It’s well worth the drive.
The huge dunes, North America’s tallest, are the focal point of this park. It was a surreal experience. One could almost visualize being in the Sahara Desert. Star Dune at 755 feet (230 metres) is the tallest in the park. At a close second is High Dune at 699 feet (213 metres).
Evidence shows that humans have lived in the area for 11,000 years. In historic times Southern Ute, Jicarilla Apache, Navajo, gold miners, homesteaders, ranchers, and farmers have lived here.
The dunes are a source of local pride and tourist income. By the 1920s valley residents petitioned for protection of the area. In 1932 it was designated national monument status under the Antiquities Act. Finally in 2000 the dunes and surrounding area became a national park and preserve.
The park facilities include a visitor/interpretive centre, hiking trails, picnic areas and campgrounds. When we visited it was still cool and jackets were a necessity. In summer though the temperature can reach into the 100s F (40s C).
Climbing the dunes is an experience not to be missed, even if you only go part of the way. Carry lots of water and a jacket. A good pair of athletic shoes is all you need, but be prepared to get sand in your shoes. From the visitor centre you have to walk a couple of hundred yards across a flat, beach-like area to get to the dunes.
Being on the dunes is like being in an alien world. As a photographer I was challenged to take the time to find new perspectives, it cries out for a picture every time you look around. It’s possible to slide down the dunes on boards similar to snow boards, these can be rented at a store a short distance outside the park entrance. The ranger told me that normal toboggans, snow boards, or saucers won’t work on the sand. Something about the consistency and make up of it. My son met some kids who let him try it and he was thrilled. They were from Colorado and told us they came here often to try out their skills. The dunes are steep, but forgiving if you fall, you’ll be filled with sand but not injuries.
If you’re looking for an unusual experience then this park is a must.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
11999 Highway 150
Mosca, CO 81146-9798