Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve
Location: Alamosa County, Colorado, in the San Luis Valley (4 hours south of Denver)
Established: As a monument, March 17th, 1932. As a Park, September 13th, 2004
Why Visit: To bring out your inner child, for some incredible photo opps, and they’re much more than your average sand dune
I can honestly say the Great Sand Dunes is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve seen in my lifetime. Unlike all of the other National Parks I’ve written about this semester, this one is special to me because I did not visit it with my family. During the semester I spent in Colorado my junior year of high school, my forty-one classmates and I took a road trip to visit the dunes on weekend. Needless to say, we had an absolute blast.
We hiked for what felt like hours to reach the highest point we could see. It was an incredible calf workout, so we took lots of breaks just to take in the view. We had hours to explore on our own and nowhere to really go: just the endless vast of rolling mountains of sand ahead, juxtaposed so beautifully against the San Juan Mountains on the west and Sangre de Cristos on the east. The dunes sprawl for almost thirty miles through Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a broad, arid plain between the two mountain ranges. Geography never ceases to amaze me.
You may be wondering, how did all of this sand get deposited in the middle of Colorado, home to the Rocky Mountains? It’s all thanks to the Rio Grande and its tributaries, which run through the San Luis Valley. Throughout history, the glaciers and lake that fed the river evaporated, leaving beds of sediments that were dispersed by winds. The dunes are changing shape daily, but remain stable due to opposing winds that can blow up to 40 mph. This constant back-and-forth motion of the winds piles the sand higher and higher. As a result, these sand dunes are the tallest in North America
. If you ever get the chance to visit, there’s really only one thing for you to do: explore the dunes! Climb until you can’t take another step, and then just sit, reflect, and take in the view. Release you’re inner child by sledding and sliding back to the bottom. To cool off, wade in one of the many streams that run along the perimeter of the dunes. Hop back in your car having experienced something incredibly unique to the United States, and thank your country for designating it as a protected area for future generations to enjoy as well.