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On Walkabout at: The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Basic Information

  • What: The Great Sand Dunes
  • Where: San Luis Valley, Colorado
  • Founded: September 13, 2004
  • Fee: $3 per adult
  • More Information: NPS website

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

Narrative

My four year old daughter has been asking me to take here to the beach.  Unfortunately I do not have the time or money to take a family beach vacation to a place like Hawaii at the moment.  So I decided to take my family on the closest thing Colorado has to a beach vacation, the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  So we made the three hour drive over to the park from Colorado Springs via Highway 160 over La Veta Pass:

After passing through the town of Ft. Garland there is a turn off on to Road 150 that leads to the Sand Dunes.  The turn off is well marked and impossible to miss.  The drive up Road 150 was a scenic one especially the views of the 14,345 foot Blanca Peak:

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

Blanca Peak is the 4th highest mountain in Colorado and on my short list to climb later this summer when I get a perfect weather day to do so.  As we drove up the road the Great Sand Dunes, which are the highest dunes in North America came into view as they rose up and over the flat desert that composes the San Luis Valley:

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

The view of the Great Sand Dunes backdropped by the mighty Sangre de Cristo Mountains is one that kept causing me to pull over on to the side of the road to take pictures of.  The view is just so spectacular:

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

As we came to the park entrance I flashed my National Park Pass to get in for free.  We then headed over to the park’s visitor center to learn more about the Great Sand Dunes:

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

We found the visitor center to be pretty basic with a small display area, a small theater, and a small gift shop.  Make sure to pack your own lunch to this National Park because they have very little food for sale and what is for sale is way over priced.  Anyway we checked out the displays which showed how these incredible dunes were created.  The formation of these sand dunes can be traced back millions of years ago to when the mountains that surrounded the San Luis Valley were formed.  Over time as snow melted from these mountains and drained into the valley, a lake was formed:

This huge lake was the size of the state of Connecticut.  Scientists have proven the existence of this lake from fossils of aquamarine life that have been found.  However, as the Ice Age ended and the glaciers in the surrounding mountains that fed the lake receded; this eventually caused the lake to dry up.  Once the lake dried up this exposed the sediment that had built up over time from the eroding mountains to be exposed to the elements.  Over centuries the wind that blows through the San Luis Valley pushed this sediment slowly towards the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

The sediment accumulated to form what we know as the Great Sand Dunes today.  This National Park Service link provides some additional graphics and explanation on how the dunes were formed which is well worth checking out.  Today this marvel of time and geology is one of the United States’ newest National Parks.  These dunes were first protected as a National Monument in 1932, but it wasn’t until 2004 when the Great Sand Dunes became a National Park.  Here is a panorama view of the dunes as seen from the visitor center:

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

Here is a closer look at the dunes as they extend into the San Luis Valley:

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

After checking out the visitor center we went and did the short drive over to Medano Creek to allow our kids to play in the water there.  During the month of July the water level of the creek is about an inch high which is perfect for little kids to play in:

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

There was quite a few other families spread out among the creek enjoying the water:

Picture from the Great Sand Dunes

Conclusion

My kids had an absolute blast splashing in the water, making dams, and constructing sand castles.  We spent a couple of hours there playing in the water before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in which caused us to call it a day.  We will definitely come back again sometime in the future in order to hike into the dune fields.  However, for this trip my kids had a blast just playing in the sand and water which was the goal of our visit to the Great Sand Dunes.  Mission accomplished!

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