The Great Sand Dunes are more than just sand

Our family got a much-needed break over the weekend. I’d have liked to go hunting, but it was still a bit hot for that, so we headed down to southern Colorado and played in the sand instead.

If you haven’t been to the Great Sand Dunes National Park down near Alamosa, Colorado, you need to go. Even if you don’t slog up those shifting dunes to the top and slide down on a rented sand sled, they’re a sight to see. They were made by the perfect combination of the locations of the San Juan Mountains to the east, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west, and the directions of the predominant winds and storm winds.

It doesn’t hurt that the San Luis Valley is made up mostly of sand, either.

Those sands from the valley are picked up by the winds and pushed to the east, until the storm winds come over the Sangre de Cristos. About a half a million years ago, which is relatively recent geologically speaking, those swirling winds started building what are now the tallest sand dunes in North America.

The dunes rise about 750 feet from the valley floor. That might not seem very high, until you stand there in the valley and look up to the top of those dunes. The Sangre de Cristos still tower above the dunes, but they’re still incredibly impressive. And if you have the gumption to hike up those suckers, you’ll end up climbing much more than 750 feet. Every step you take, you’ll slide back down a half a step.

And then there’s Medano Creek. It runs at the base of the dunes, but when we got there, it was barely a trickle. It rained that night, though, and the next day, it carried about twice as much water as the day before. But out on the sandy flats, even with more water flowing, it simply disappears into the sand.

It’s a heck of a drive, even from southern Wyoming, but it’s worth it. Plan a visit for the spring, when the creek is flowing strong again. Until then, maybe it’ll be cool enough to go hunting.