Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Great Sand Dunes National Park, Part Two



In my last post (click here to read that post) I brought you to our recent visit to The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, located in southern Colorado.  It is one of four national parks located in Colorado. The others are the Rocky Mountain National Park, which we've visited multiple times, Mesa Verde National Park and The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parkwhich we have visited once, but hope to also see them again many times.  Each park contains magnificent beauty and diverse geologic and ecologic features, while Meas Verde showed the marvels of an ancient native civilization structures in a vast canyon's walls. My husband and I have visited many other of the USA's National Parks over the years, and many more are on our list to see. We are happy that our country has preserved these wonders of nature for future generations to see! ( Al photos will enlarge if clicked on)


The Great Sand Dunes National Park has to be one of the most unusual parks to visit. It is far from large cities and accessibility can be challenging. There is a visitor center on site with bathrooms, and there are limited motels/hotels near the park and some campgrounds in and around the park.  We drove from the Denver area to the park in about 4 hours and after visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park we stayed the night in a hotel in the town of Alamosa, around 38 miles away.


The visitors center for the park is at 8,200 feet elevation at the base of the dunes, so not only do you have to prepared for the elevation, but the fact that weather in the park can be very variable. There are often high winds in spring, and March and April are the snowiest months. In summer, the air temperature can reach 80 degrees F, while the temperature of the sand on the dunes can reach 150 degrees F. In summer, after the sun goes down, the air temperature can drop to 40 degrees F.

But don't let these challenges defray you from planning a visit to the park. Probably late spring or early fall are the optimal times to come, and if you come in summer plan on an early morning visit before the heat of the day. You can check the park's weather on this link.


The Medano Creek that runs in front of the dunes is only seen in early to late spring, as it is the result of snow melt in the mountains. Our visit was at the end of April, so the creek was still shallow enough for us to walk across with our shoes on, but it increases in depth as the season goes on and children often delight in swimming and playing in it.


I ended my Part One post with our reaching Medano Creek, and now I'll take you forward as we approach the dunes.


It was interesting to see the different qualities of the sand as we walked towards the dunes.  The sand close to the creek was full of rocks and pebbles.


A close up

This sand is made up mainly from the close by Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and therefore between the wind and water, larger particles of sand and pebbles accumulate.


The closer you walk to the dunes the sand becomes fine grained and very deep and soft. You can see how people's foot prints sink into the sand.


Most of the 30 miles of sand dune field is made up of sand that originated from the far westerly San Juan Mountains. From there it was washed by streams into the vast San Luis Valley. From there southwesterly winds blew, bounced and pushed the grains up against the Sangre de Christo Moutians, where it formed the tallest sand dune formations in North America!


I was excited to begin our hike!  Here the dunes are ahead...


....and from the same point is my husband with Medano Creek behind him.


In the distance you can see the tops of the 14,000 foot San Juan Mountains in the distance to the left, and the vast sand dune field all around us.


 People in the foreground look like small specks on the sand.


As we climb in elevation the challenge of walking on the dunes become more and more apparent to us.


There are many hills and crests to conquer and we begin to feel defeated by both the soft sand grabbing at our ankles like quicksand, and the constant wind whipping around us


The elevation of the dunes seemed never ending.


I would catch glimpses of people reaching the top, which would spur me on...



...but both my husband and I were beginning to realize we probably would not be able to reach the xenith of the top dunes, as we were struggling with fatigue.


At that point we stopped and just took in the beauty of the height we reached.


We looked in all directions and felt exalted by this wonder of nature!


Mountains were all around us, both far and near.





So, how far did we hike? If you enlarge the photo above you can see I marked the dune we stopped on with an "x"  It took us about an our and a half to reach this point.


Here I am at that point--red from the intense sun, wind and exertion of walking in soft sand.  Below is a video I posted on my Mille Fiori Favorit facebook page from that place on the dunes. Click here to go to the facebook page if you do not see the video plugin below.


As you can hear in the video, the wind was strong the day of our visit and it was one of the factors that inhibited our hike. I was worried about sand blowing into my eyes and lungs. I think I'd be better prepared if I return again by wearing more wrap around sunglasses and bringing a face mask and tie on sun hat.  Although the park claims it is less windy than the city of Chicago, Spring is often the windy season


Still, I was thrilled that we made it as far on our hike as we did and that I enjoyed these magnificent sights!


It felt like we were on another world, and seeing sights I never dreamed I would see!


On our way back toward the bottom of the dunes we stopped a few minutes to watch both children and adults use special sand boards to ride down the dunes, both sledding and sand boarding.


Sitting on the board to ride down a dune looked like fun! The special boards have to be rented or bought at nearby retailers--they are NOT available in the park. Click here to read about rentals.


I took one last look at where I had hoped to hike, as I knew that the entire dune field could be seen from the very top of the highest dunes.  Maybe on my next visit I'll be able to get there.


We were still very happy to have accomplished what we did and enjoy our first visit to The Great Sand Dune National Park and Preserve. They are ever changing, but always staying the same, totally unique and unexpected.

After our overnight stay in Alamosa we journeyed east towards the vast plains of Colorado, where we wanted to visit two National Historic sites. More about those interesting and poignant places on a future post!

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51 comments:

Pamela Gordon said...

That is incredible, Pat. I am amazed at the size of the dunes and how they came to be. The blue sky is so intense and the mountain ranges with their snowy peaks beautiful. I don't think I would get as far as you did in climbing as I'd be out of breath for sure and the walking on sand is really difficult so I think you and your husband did well. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

Michelle said...

Interesting to see these sand dunes. I didn't realize they were there!

happywonderer.com said...

I'm so impressed at what you accomplished on the sand dunes. It's so much harder walking in sand than on solid ground. Amazing scenery, too.

The Joy of Home with Martha Ellen said...

Pat, you and your husband are real troopers. You made it quite far considering the conditions. Walking in soft sand is quite hard! The beauty of this National Park is quite amazing and I agree with you--I'm so glad the National Parks have set aside nature's beauty for us all to enjoy. Have a wonderful week. ♥

Linda W. said...

An interesting National Park I hope to visit one day. We also have sand dunes on the Oregon coast, near the town of Florence and people sandboard there too.

Pondside said...

Your first photos are amazing, Pat. The layers of colour and texture give me an idea of what it must be like there - almost other-worldly. I think you did very well getting as far as you did, after a four hour drive! I know a little bit about exercising at a high elevation, and it is not easy. This was another very interesting post, and I look forward to the next part of the trip.

diane b said...

A great post, Pat. The scenery is unbelievable. You did well to get so far. The wind would have stopped me let alone the soft sand and elevation.

eileeninmd said...

Hello, Pat! This is a great park to visit. The views and scenery are beautiful. You did great on the hike, the sand and the wind can be difficult to walk in. Beautiful photos and video. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week ahead!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Love the first two photos…it is striking to see the three levels of nature.

Linda Kay said...

Such amazing landscape, especially with the sand in the foreground and the snow caps in the back.

Sherrie said...

Hi,
This is awesome! I didn't know this existed, thanks for sharing your trip. Have a great day!

Kelleyn Rothaermel said...

Beautiful ! Have a lovely week!
http://travelingbugwiththreeboys-kelleyn.blogspot.com/

Small City Scenes said...

Amazing dunes. I guess all sand dunes are not made alike. We have sand dune parks here in Washington both in Eastern Wa, in the desert and in Western Wa. on the Ocean Oregon has a Sand dune state park too but also on the ocean---and those are truly shifting sands. Your images are great.
MB

Vee said...

It certainly has an other-worldly look there... You two are amazing! I would not have made it that far and, if I had, I would have paid for days. For the adventurous and the curious, I can see that it would be a huge draw. (At first, I thought the man sliding down the hill was V!)

jeannettestgermain said...

Many thanks Pat for sharing this "Nat. Park with SEASONS! Cant get over these gorgeous views! Don't feel bad, sand is very hard to walk in! That's why I'm glad the sand of the beaches are most often flat! Enjoy your week:)

Lady Fi said...

Such beautiful blues!

abrianna said...

Beautiful shots. Sledding down the dunes does sound like fun. I can see how windy it is from your hair blowing in the wind.

It is important to find a good rabbi. This congregation had one and then made things difficult for him so he left. Now they are back to square one.

LV said...

Thank you for this marvelous tour of my favorite state. However, I could never walk like you did in the dunes. I probably want get to go back here, so it is a pleasure seeing it this way.

Jeanne said...

Hello Pat, Thank you for the sweet comment about my niece and my post. I laughed when I saw the flowers are bluebells. I quickly corrected my post. I bet my sister does not know this. I will tell her of course. Smile.

I did not realize how high those sand dunes are. This post really made me realize that I was wrong. I can't imagine how you walked up the Dunes as far as you did. You both look fabulous. Your spirit of adventure is something I admire about you both very much.

Have a wonderful week of exploring.
Hugs, Jeanne

Al said...

They are beautiful, but walking on them is certainly very tiring. It's quite an adventure!

Peggy Jones said...

Wow amazing. How in the world do you know which way to go? I would get lost.

Pamela S said...

Such beautiful photography and breath taking views! What a trip.

Jill Foley said...

This is amazing! I haven't even heard of this park in Colorado. I've been to many dunes along coasts, but didn't realize Colorado also had dunes.

jeannettestgermain said...

Hope you got my comment? Just wanting to be sure you know how much I appreciate you being a part of SEASONS, and I absolutely admire these mountaina!

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

It really is most remarkable. A place that is hard to describe and capture in photos. But you did a great job and I know you'll look forward to going back again. You can imagine that movie makers love this scenery! Enjoy your week. Hugs, Diane

edenhills said...

What breathtaking views! It certainly looks like you had fun. I'm not sure I'd want to try going down them on a board.

Sharon said...

The dunes against the snowy mountains -- wow, what a striking scene! Thanks for sharing your images!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Wow. What a stunning and unusual place to visit. Lucky you. I hope to get there someday. I admire your and Vinny's sense of adventure. Go Pat!

Barb said...

Now that I've seen your photos, I want to revisit the Dunes again! What a magical place. As you say, "totally unexpected." When I was younger, I camped there with 2 friends in the spring. It got so cold at night, I had to wear my wool hat and gloves in the sleeping bag. We hiked to the top early the next morning and ate a bagel sandwich sitting on the dune looking out over the sand and snowcapped peaks. It's one of my best memories. I liked both the photos and the video - it does sound like the wind was whipping. I know people who've taken old skis and snowboards to try sliding down the dunes.

Jim said...

Amazing

Jo May said...

Wow Pat, you all are having too much fun, lol. And I might add in great shape, and tough as nails, looking good friend.

Jo May said...

Wow Pat, you all are having too much fun, lol. And I might add in great shape, and tough as nails, looking good friend.

Ida said...

What an amazing place. Those dunes are just awesome looking. I've been to the Oregon Sand Dunes but they are small in comparison to these and don't have the gorgeous mountains surrounding them. You did a great job hiking these dune.

Molly said...

The colour of the sand against the strong blue of the sky is amazing

Mollyxxx

Ruth Rieckehoff said...

I am pretty sure it is not easy to climb the dunes. I have tried to go up on snowy hills and is super tiring. I am assuming it is similar in here. I have only seen the dunes in Death Valley. Will like to see these humongous ones.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Colorado certainly has some amazing sites to see! Those huge sand dunes are spectacular, Pat!

Stacey said...

Pat, this is so beautiful and unreal or surreal!! I'm amazed to realize that the dots in your photos are people who have walked far into the dunes. How cool! You have so much to see and do in Colorado. I think my husband and I need to plan a trip.

Lisa Kerner said...

This is a great post Pat with lots of things I need to remember when we go visit someday, like the wrap around glasses. I would not have even thought about the elevation either, I think sand and I think lower dessert. So plenty of water, Motrin and my inhaler are a must to bring. :-D Beautiful pictures, I cannot wait to visit.

Lisa @ Life Thur the Lens

Anne's Attic - Design said...

It sure does look like a fun place to play! Thank you for sharing it at SYC! :) Jo

Spare Parts and Pics said...

These dunes look almost surreal, with the surrounding mountains and snow. I'm used to seeing desert dunes (with the surrounding desert). Looks like a great adventure, and someplace I would like to visit!!

Nanda Kumar said...

Great shots! I can feel serenity!

Optimistic Existentialist said...

This looks like a place of dreams...I need to visit this place in my lifetime.

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

What an amazing trek. We so appreciate you joining the Thoughts of Home on Thursday gathering. May you have a delightfully lovely weekend.

Art and Sand said...

What a beautiful spot.

Thanks for sharing with SYC.

Roz Corieri Paige said...

Wow, Pat, our country has some of the most interesting and beautiful natural places to see and experience! As always, thanks for tagging us along on your many trips!

Jemma@athomewithjemma said...

What glorious country this is!
I love the West, with Colorado being one of my favorite Western States.
Thank you for sharing this adventure with us at TOHOT!
Jemma

Jann Olson said...

What a fun place! Some of my kids have motorbikes, four wheelers, and RZR's and love going to sand dunes here in UT. I am showing this to hubby. We need to go there some time! Thanks for sharing it with SYC.
hugs,
Jann

Denise inVA said...

Fantastic! What a great State you live in and thank you fo all these great photos!

Susan Anderson said...

Stunning photos and some really interesting history.

Thanks.

=)

Nancy's Notes said...

Thank you for taking us along on your amazing trip! We've been in that area and it's all so breathtaking, isn't it?

Nancy

Photo(Geo)grapher said...

Spectacular beauty!