Located about 30 miles outside the town of Alamosa in Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes are a fascinating feature that has been created by nature over thousands of years. The giant sand dunes sitting at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains highlight the diversity of habitats in southwestern Colorado, which ranges from wetlands, prairies, mountains, and forests. The sand dunes seem oddly out of place, it is almost as if a piece of an African desert was scooped up and dropped in the mountain valley. The reality is that they were created after a large lake dried up thousands of years ago and the wind drove the sand to the base of the mountains.
Although this year the mountains did not receive a lot of snow and therefore the runoff was minimal, usually there is a river or stream running at the base of the sand dunes, making the contrast even more interesting. One of the good things about the stream not being there was that we didn’t have to get our feet wet in order to get to the base of the dunes, but the bad part was that it was even more sand to walk through in the heat of the sun. It is not easy walking in the sand and even harder walking up the steep sides of the dunes. They may not seem as large from the distance, but the actual peaks of the dunes can be as high as 750 feet (230 meters).
As more and more people visit the dunes, one of the most popular things to do is to bring a sandboard and go sandboarding. People will spend hours climbing to the top and then boarding their way back down. Just to reach the top is difficult, so to do it over and over again in order to shred the sand is a real achievement. It also means that you will be surrounded by plenty of crowds as people flock to the area. There is camping nearby and you will find and endless array of motorhomes and RV’s. Since it is a national park, you can expect to pay $20 per vehicle to get into the park, which is good for seven days.
It took us about three hours to drive from Colorado Springs to the Great Sand Dunes, but it is well worth the drive. We hadn’t been to the sand dunes for over twenty years, so it was also a little bit nostalgic for us as we remembered bringing our young children there to play in the sand. We only spent a couple of hours at the sand dunes as climbing the hills is very exhausting and hard on the legs. Even though we were walking in the Sahara Desert only a few weeks ago, visiting this unique place in Colorado was really something special.