Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado

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Sand. Sand everywhere. Certainly, seeing the Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado is an unexpected appearance of sand! Of course, the entire Rocky Mountains contain more unusual attractions and views than one can imagine. Also, if one disregards the surrounding mountains, looks like you are in the Sahara Desert!

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado
Sand Dunes National Park and the Rockies

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I love our National Parks. Certainly, all of them are treasures. While many people believe their main purpose is tourism, that’s not true. Preservation of these precious lands makes up the primary purpose, while tourism is secondary. Here is a link to a post about all US National Parks.

The dunes here are the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising up to nearly 750 feet above the valley floor. The park has alpine lakes, a variety of shrublands, grasslands, and wetlands, as well as six 13,000 foot mountains.

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Sand Dunes
From here it looks like sand and sky!

About the park

Here is a link to the National Park website for this park. This unusual park springs up among the Rocky Mountains southwest of Denver in Colorado. Suddenly, upon approach, one finds a huge “pile of sand”. Prevailing winds in the area were disrupted by a certain combination of geologic features to deposit the sand in this area during prehistoric times. The elevation in the park ranges from approximately 7,500 feet to over 13,000 feet. As stated above, the sand dunes rise to about 750 feet above their base.

To reach the dunes, you must cross a small creek (there’s a bridge) and walk about 200 yards of flat sand to reach the base. Then, the dunes rise majestically above to their full height. Also, you can climb the dunes. Of course, it’s like climbing a beach so it’s hard work!

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Map of the Dunes (I know, hard to read.)

Above is a map of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I realize it’s hard to read! The Park and Preserve cover about 233 square miles. The dunes themselves cover about 30 square miles. The sand is from a time when prehistoric lakes dried up and the wind picked up the remaining sand. The wind patterns deposited the sand in this location. It’s really a gorgeous site in person. Unique as well. (I think I need to be judicious on using gorgeous, beautiful, breathtaking, etc. because all National Parks elicit those responses.)

Another view – Colorado Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park
More Sand Dunes and sky

This image shows another view of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Due to changes in weather patterns over the years, the dunes’ height can vary as much as 5 feet over several years. I visited in late July and the weather was beautiful. The park rangers warn that the sand can reach 150 degrees F on the hottest days.

What’s more, here is a link to a panoramic view of the Colorado Sand Dunes from a distance. Before entering or after leaving the park, stop at the turn out on the road for this view. (It views too small on mobile devices, so looks much better on a desktop, laptop, or larger tablet.)

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Equally important, there are hiking trails, campgrounds, four-wheel-drive trails, and scenic overlooks in the park. Even the four-wheel-drive trail doesn’t cover much of the park. You will need to do some hiking. And remember the elevation variations! If you are in the exploring mood, you might spend a couple of days here!

US Air Force Academy

Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs
Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

On the way back to Denver, I stopped to see the Air Force Academy but I needed an appointment to get onto the academy itself. Of course, I do have the above picture! Besides, I didn’t have to salute anyone.

Colorado Springs is a great place to visit as well. While I didn’t visit on this trip, I have visited in the past. Incidentally, one unique place to visit is the Garden of the Gods, located on the northwestern edge of the city. It’s considered one of the country’s most impressive archaeological wonders. Of course, it’s a “must-see” while visiting Colorado Springs.

Along the way to Colorado Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park
On the road north of the park!

Here is a link to a panoramic view of the above image. (As explained above, it views better on a computer or larger tablet.) This view is along Colorado Highway 91. Interestingly, there are fifteen “fourteeners” in the Sawatch Range defining this part of the Rockies. This view is not in the Great Sand Dunes National Park but is along the route from Denver. Overall, Colorado has a total of fifty-two, or fifty-three, or fifty-eight, or fifty-nine or even seventy-two 14,000 foot peaks! Of course, depending on whose definition you use and who is writing the article! Even “officials” in Colorado don’t agree. But the most commonly used number is fifty-eight.

Although driving I-25 is the faster way, we road trippers want to take “the road less traveled”! Colorado Highway 91 is a beautiful drive through the mountains. You will leave Denver heading west on I-70 and then south on 91. You will see various parts of the Rockies as well as a few quaint mountain towns.

Back into Denver from the west

Downtown Denver
Downtown Denver from the west foothills. Unsettled weather.

Denver is an excellent central location for seeing much of the Rockies and the “front range”. The Colorado Front Range extends from Fort Collins on the north, down to Pueblo on the south. Interestingly, approximately 85% of Colorado’s population resides in this urban corridor. In general, that means Colorado has a lot of wide open spaces!

I’ve written about Denver in the past. Therefore, I’ve included several links to other posts about the city. Here is a link from a visit in April 2019. However, this link is about a trip to Denver, not in Denver. Of course, I can’t leave out a link to a post about National Parks in general.

My visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park happened nearly spur of the moment, so I didn’t see as much as most visitors would. Primarily, I wanted to see the dunes. In summary, whether you just want to see the dunes, or enjoy the full experience, it’s well worth the drive!

Of course, can’t leave out my classic rock recollection!

“(Remember) Walkin’ in the Sand” by Aerosmith

Oh, no no no no no
Remember, walking in the sand
Remember, walking hand in hand
Remember, the night was so exciting
Remember, her smile was so inviting

Written by: George “Shadow” Morton
(Actually first recorded by “The Shangri-las” in 1965)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Beverly Blinde

    Your photos bring back many fond memories of our trip there – in 2007 (can’t believe it was so long ago!). A piece of advice if you plan to go: be sure to protect your camera from the blowing sand – I somehow managed to ruin my camera while climbing the dunes!

  2. Kirk Allan Mahlen

    Great memories of Great Sand Dunes which I first experienced in June of 1978 after returning from a 5-week May seminar to Spain with 16 female college classmates / fellow Spanish language majors and minors. I spent the remainder of that summer in Alamosa, CO (near the Dunes) successfully completing an undergraduate Hospital Administration Residency (Concordia College, Moorhead). I also played catcher on a champion softball team sponsored by the Purple Pig Bar, climbed my first fourteener (Mt. Blanca which is near the Dunes), ran up to 15 miles every other day at 8,500 feet elevation, learned about Mormonism, perfected a double back-flip off the high dive, and did my first whitewater rafting (including Class V) on the Arkansas River. I frequently refer to this as one of the best summers of my life.

    1. Sounds like a great experience! Glad I could “rekindle” your memories.

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