We visited Grand Sand Dunes on the cold December day. It was a week into the government shutdown and day five of our Christmas vacations.
Honestly, I had too many emotions during this time: closed sites and parks, cancellation, day to day hotels rebooking. Yes, now it’s only a memory. But this period changed my mood for the whole of January. And yes, we still had good vacations.
Great Sand Dunes left an entirely different set of emotions. Everything went exactly as planned (not all, the visitor center was closed).
The park is home for the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising to a maximum height of 750 feet. Medano Creek borders dunes from the east. To visit dunes, visitors need to cross the creek. However, the highest water level is from April to the end of June. All other time, it’s shallow, or, as in our case, totally dry.
It was an extremely cold day. Freezing cold. We arrived midday with the plan to explore dunes only. Park has a scenic dirt road that travels towards Medano Pass and dozen of trails that lead to the high alpine country or explore aspens groves nearby.
Medano Pass road is closed during the winter season, which leaves only a few options. You can rent sand sleds or sand boards in Alamosa. Though I’m not sure it’s also possible during winter, and sand is harder during the cold period.
Though winter is the only season when you could find both sand dunes and mountains surrounding them to be covered with snow and ice. Extremely incredible sight.
There are no defined trails on dunes (of course), and you could explore any direction you want.
When we arrived, the parking lot was pretty busy. However, most of the visitors started to leave well before the dusk. There were no huge crowds on dunes itself through a lot of footprints. I think during warmer months, wind should remove all prints quickly but iced sand could not be moved easily.
We walked up to the top of the dunes and stopped there to wait for sunrise. I wanted to have a higher point to get wide shots of lower dunes highlighted by the setting sun. What I didn’t realize that I also want to have Mt Herard to be seen from this point. But the dune hid most of the mountain from the sight only the top was visible.
The first dune we hiked had a better view of Mt. Herard, but it was too late. However, the spot in the middle between the top and the base had also not a bad look over sunlight snowy top of Herard.
Links and information
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on Google Maps. The park is 240 miles from Denver, around 175 miles from Santa Fe
- Park entrance fee is $25. The America the Beautiful-The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass is accepted
- Official park page