Today I traveled from Colorado Springs south and west towards Durango, where I’ll be spending the next 5 nights. The major attraction for the day was this National Park, located northeast of Alamosa, Colorado.
After I turned off Route 160 onto the access road it was a 16-mile drive north to the Park entrance. This was about 6 miles off the main road, headed right for the Park. You can see the light colored dunes sitting at the base of the much larger Sangre de Cristo mountain range behind them. Don’t be deceived by the dunes apparent lack of height. These are the tallest dunes in North America, as you’ll soon see.
First stop was the Visitor Center. It was built using “Tromble Wall” technology, which is a passive solar collection system.
As you would expect, inside were displays and photographs pertaining to the Park. This is a photo on display of the colorful Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle. This is the only place in the world where it is found.
Another curious creature which was on display (in 3D, though stuffed, not moving about) was this Ord’s Kangaroo Rat. Not very big, but look at those feet!!
The Dunes were created as the result of sand blowing east from the Rio Grande river (which I crossed after leaving the Park) and it’s tributaries, as well as High Desert further west. The sand can’t make it over the mountain range and gathers near the base of the tall mountain and, voila… sand dunes.
The dunes are constantly changing, shaped by the wind and contours of the land. And these dunes aren’t exactly what you’ll find at the beach. The highest peak visible as you drive in from the main road is approximately 650 feet tall (that’s higher than a 60 story building, folks), and there is another set of dunes about a mile and a half further back which is 100 feet taller.
Here is a series of photos to demonstrate the size of these dunes. This was taken from the side of the road after leaving the Visitor Center.
Now I’m going to zoom in to an area just a tad to the right of center.
And zooming closer, towards the very top of the dune.
I turned around and went back to a parking area between the road and the dunes themselves.
After parking my car I walked towards the dunes and almost immediately found Medano Creek. It is a wide, very shallow stream which is also ever-changing. Because of the continuous addition of fresh sand the creek never establishes a permanent route. Little sand dunes form underwater but are then broken by the flowing water. Everyone has to wade across the creek to get to the dunes. Sand temperatures can reach 140 degrees so the Park does not recommend going barefoot.
You’ll see some other folks enjoying the Park in the next post.
Although I saw trailers transporting dune buggies (they are very sophisticated these days) and other ATV’s when I was getting gas in Fort Garland, they are NOT allowed in the Park. There are other areas nearby where those folks can have their fun. Parents and visitors without kids can rest assured they are safe while climbing on the dunes. In fact, this is one of the quietest National Parks in the contiguous United States.