But there ARE giant sand dunes in Colorado! The tallest dunes in North America, in fact!
and they're surrounded by beautiful mountains!
and a glacial river runs through the dunes!
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was another one of those places we saw on the map and went a little out of our way to visit. Once again, our trusty road atlas did not disappoint.
These dunes are "about 11 percent of a 33-square-mile deposit of sand" from the San Juan Mountains located 65 miles west of the park. (In other words, this is a massive sand repository!) The river that runs through the base of the dunes comes from the Sangre de Cristos; this water also feeds local wells and enables agriculture. It's a really special place.
The hikes. We only walked about a quarter mile up the first dune. The park isn't too picky where you walk so you could easily make a day of sand dune hiking and/or sandboarding, though. Other visitors were making the 2-mile trek up to the top, and a few brave souls were backpacking somewhere between the dunes.
It was a really hot day, so most people were just parked at the "beach" though.
a surprisingly strong current
a quarter mile was plenty that day
The campsite. We'd hoped to camp at Pinyon Flats Campground but were greeted with the dreaded "campground full" sign when we stopped at the entrance station. We did drive through the campground; it looked nice enough for a night or two.
The food. Ehhh... We had our standard cheese sandwich and chips for lunch. From what we recall there wasn't a cafe onsite, so plan accordingly.
The summary. Well worth the time we spent. If we had kids and/or a campsite, we probably would have wanted to spend more time.
national park #8 (of this road trip): check!
We were only in the park for an hour so there are just a few more photos here. We also stopped by 25-foot Zapata Falls, not technically in the park but close enough that it would've been silly not to go. It's hard to tell from the pictures but the waterfall actually cuts through a small crevasse in the rocks. The best part was wading through the blissfully chilly water to get to the falls on that hot, hot day.
well worth the side trip
Great Sand Dunes was our third national park that we'd never even heard of before this road trip. There are 58 national parks in the National Park Service. How many can you name? How many have you visited?