Happily, my concern couldn’t have been more wrong.
Medano Creek – the wide, shallow stream that serves as a watery playground and gateway to the Dunes during late spring and summer – was dry when I arrived, so there was no dramatic separation between the parking lot and the dunefield. Still, I’d trekked less than halfway across the creek bed and was draped by the shadows of the smaller dunes when the weight of city life began to fall away.
“It’s impossible to say how many dunes there are,” said Kathy Faz, chief of interpretation and visitor services at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. “The landscape is always changing. We don’t monitor the number of dunes; we monitor the type.”
Traversing the park will bring you face to face with arc-shaped barchans, three-pointed stars, reversing dunes (so named because their spiny ridges are narrowed by opposing winds), and escape dunes, which migrate from the main dunefield, leaving the skeletal remains of vegetation in their wake.
“There’s a dancing element to the dunes,” Faz said. “On windy days, you can see sand come off High Dune and watch ripples form in the flatter areas.”
- Weather can, and will, change with little notice. Leave the dunes and seek immediate shelter if there’s any threat of lightning.
- It’s fun to dig your toes in warm sand, but surface sand temps in the summer can soar upward of 120 degrees. Scrap the sandals and opt for closed-toe shoes. Bring hiking shoes for your dog as well, if you plan to take a leashed pet on your trek.
- The park never closes, so you’re free to hike the dunes at night. That said, getting turned around is easier than you think. Carry water, blankets, cellphones, and a flashlight if you’re into evening exploration.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is as diverse as Colorado weather, where snow one day can be followed by temperatures in the 60s and 70s the next.
If frolicking in the sand doesn’t strike your fancy, consider an easy, six-mile hike on Mosca Pass, just east of the visitor center. Or, for more of a challenge, venture past Point of No Return to Medano Lake, the Sand Creek Lakes, or camping spots near Medano Pass Primitive Road. Just be sure your car is up for the challenge. Park rangers advise using high-clearance, 4WD vehicles only beyond Point of No Return.