Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Colorado's Great Sand Dunes

This past weekend Zack and I considered making a trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley. Ultimately we decided not to go this weekend as we woke up too late on Saturday. We would have to be on the road by 5:45AM or so to get there and get back at a reasonable hour. The park is located about 3 hours to the south of our home in South Central Colorado. To reach the park from Denver you head to the south on I-25 for about 150 miles until to reach the small town of Walsenburg. From Walsenburg you head west on US 160 for about 50 miles until you reach the turn off for the Sand Dunes. Once you make the turn off from US 160, the dunes start to come into view almost immediately. However from the turn off to the dunes is over 20 miles. Given the distance you get an immediate appreciation for how large the dunes are. The dunes located in the park are the largest sand dunes in the North America. Some of the tallest dunes tower over 750 feet. The process by which the dunes were formed is believed to have started over 12,000 years ago. The dunes are formed from sand that flows through the Rio Grande River and it’s tributaries. The sand is picked up by winds and then dropped at the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley. The Valley abruptly ends to the east where the Sangre de Cristo range rises up from the Valley floor. These mountains reach well over 13,000 feet and the wind does not rise above them. As the wind hits the wall of the mountains, the sand which has been carried in the wind falls down to the earth below.

The dunes are constantly shifting and changing. Walking through them one day and coming back several weeks later you will find the landscape utterly and completely changed. In addition to the wind, water is at work shaping the dunes. A number of streams flow around the periphery of the dune field. These streams help “recycle” the sand by taking it from the eastern most extremes of the park back into the San Luis Valley where it can be picked up by the wind again and re-deposited.

(The pictures shown here were taken during our last visit to the Sand Dunes several years ago.)

The Sand Dunes were originally designated as a National Monument in 1932. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed an act that set the Dunes on track to become Colorado’s newest National Park. After a lot of wrangling back and forth by Colorado’s congressional delegation, legislation was finally passed on September 13, 2004 designating the Dunes as a National Park. There was a tremendous amount of effort needed to get the Dunes designated as a National Park due to the fact that much of the land included in the park is the headwater of several large streams and rivers. These water resources have long been coveted by the growing cities of Colorado’s Front Range. By designating the Dunes a National Park, these water resources have been forever preserved so that no city can attempt to lay claim to them. The Park also includes one of Colorado’s 14’ers – Kit Carson Peak. This peak is one of the more difficult 14ers to climb but it does not have the fearsome reputation of two neighboring peaks – Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle. These two peaks have the notoriety of usually killing at least one person every summer climbing season. Kit Carson and Crestones are definitely not the first 14ers that you would want to attempt climbing. Any visit to the Sand Dunes is a fun filled adventure of tromping over the countless dunes. One of our favorite activities is to climb to the highest dune we can reach and then to slide/jump our way down to the bottom. You have to come prepared to get sand in your shoes, down your pants – wherever – because you will! You need to be exceedingly careful with cameras, GPS and any kind of electronics that you take into the dunes. During a trip to the Dunes in 1998, I ruined a camera when I got sand in it. Hiking at the Sand Dunes is an adventure as there are no marked trails through the dunes. Any trail that is laid out is quickly covered over by the blowing sand. Thankfully it is hard to get lost as you can just climb to the top of a dune and see which way to go. Zack and I love our time at the Dunes. We plan on doing a couple of trips there this year. We are even planning to spend some time camping there over the summer. The campgrounds are great as they are only a short distance from the Dunes and have showers, which is really important given how sandy you can get! As for today’s happenings, we don’t have much going on at all. Zack is back at school today so that has made my day much easier. We are both heads down involved in work and school. After school Zack went to the after school program Willow Creek Cares For Kids. He didn't go during February as I was still working out his schedule at Sylvan. Now that the schedule is established he will go to WCCK once or twice per week. This evening we went to Park Meadows Mall to get his glasses repaired and then we ate dinner at the Food Court. We had Johnny Rockets for dinner - I don't really think that was the best idea we had all day! We brought Nancy - Patty's mom - a cheeseburger home for dinner. Now we are settling in for the night and Zack is getting ready for bed. We hope that all of our readers are doing well and that everyone had a great day! Thanks, and peace to all!


Millie said...

The Sand Dunes bring back memories of our vacations on the Outer Banks. We generally went to Jockey's Ridge State Park in the evening and made the hike through the park, climbing up to the top of the dunes. These dunes are the tallest active sand dunes in the Eastern U.S. The view from the top is awesome. Many kite flyers, people parasailing, etc. Then to end our evening, took our usual romp running down the dunes to the bottom. Can still see our Jocelyn doing this when she was a wee little girl. Great memories!

Jerry Kromer said...

Millie - I definitely agree about the memories. Zack and I definitely have some good memories of the time we have spent at the Dunes. Z hasn't been to the beach since he was a little boy, so I think a trip like you guys took would be well worth it.

Hope you are doing well. Say hello to Bob for us!