National Parks – Great Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes in Colorado? Who knew?

 

Southeastern Colorado is home to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Southeastern Colorado is home to Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

OK, so we’ve known about Great Sand Dunes National Park for several years now. We just never took the time on our road trips through Colorado to stop and see the park. If we had done even a tiny bit of research, we definitely would have stopped before! For those of you with kids, put this National Park on your potential vacation list.

 

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View from the picnic area parking lot

 

Nestled against the mountains on the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado are massive sand dunes. The largest in the US. Right there, just rising up and flowing with the conflicting winds. And this is only about a third of the sand that is present in the valley.

We spent two days in the park and one night in a cabin just outside the park. Focusing on the dunes we didn’t make time to hike the surrounding mountain trails which are supposed to have pretty spectacular views.

 

Hiking back from High Dune

Hiking back from High Dune

The reason I think this is a great park for kids is that you are free to roam the dunes – no set trails, just explore them as you like. The Park Service even promotes the rental sleds and snow(?) boards that can be used on the “slopes”.  The kids won’t damage any natural wonders and they will get really tuckered out after playing in the sand all day!

 

Sledding on the dunes

Sledding on the dunes

 

Our fall visit meant the creek bed was dry. From this video of Medano Creek, it looks like the creek is another fun place to play when it is fed by the snow melt and spring rains. The watershed actually contains water all year round but most of the volume is absorbed within the sand itself.

 

The dry creek bed

The dry creek bed

 

We found a shelf of wet sand near the top of the dunes – leading to questions such as – if you were stranded, could you reclaim water from the sand by straining it through a shirt?

Our experiments were inconclusive.

 

A water line several hundred feet up

A water line several hundred feet up

 

Can this water be reclaimed?

Can this water be reclaimed?

 

The most spectacular moments of our brief stay were after sunset. With a new moon and a crystal clear night, the Milky Way took over the sky above us. The stars all twinkled with different colors. I can’t remember another recent time that I’ve seen such a clear view of the night sky. This alone was worth the trip.

 

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View of the sunset from our porch

 

Lodging

Most lodging close by is in Alamosa – about a 20 minute drive. We booked a cabin just outside the park at Oasis. Since it was off-season, we were able to book same day one half of the duplex cabin that is located off-site. Off season also meant the restaurant and camp store had shortened hours.

The price of the cabin was not out of line from the Alamosa hotels. Outfitted with a small fridge and microwave, we enjoyed watching the sunrise over the dunes on our deck with a coffee in hand.

 

Sled Rentals

The camp store has sled rentals at about $20 / day offered during the season. Year round rentals are available in Alamosa according to our guide book. If you have several “kids”, you don’t actually need to have one sled per person. The dunes are short enough that you can take turns with the sleds and the families that we saw just naturally took turns going downhill.

 

I failed to check the bottom of my sled

I failed to check the bottom of my sled

 

When renting, check the condition of the sled bottom. Look for a smooth surface since any scrapes or gouges will slow the sled considerably. I failed to do this and there was a noticeable difference between the speeds of our two sleds.

 

Accessibility

The Park Service has two sand wheelchairs – one for adults and one for children – available for loan. The balloon wheels allow for a companion to push the chairs beyond the access ramp out onto the sand itself. My guess is that you’d want a strong companion to travel the distance to the full dunes (about a quarter mile) but the creek area is just beyond the ramp. Reservations are recommended. Check the park website for current contact info.

 

Find Your Park Expedition

We just missed the crew from the Find Your Park Expedition 2015 –  a group of 8 social media stars made the trek to Great Sand Dunes two days after we left. Apparently, I should read my park service emails before I go to the parks…

 

Have you been to the Dunes?

 

 

 

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