Saturday, January 14, 2012

Great Sand Dunes National Park

On the way to Wolf Creek for our annual ski trip, we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 60 miles east of Wolf Creek, in southern Colorado. The centerpiece of the park is the Great Sand Dunes, which rises 750feet  above the floor of San Luis Valley.  It is the tallest Sand Dunes in North America.

As we were approaching the Park, I noticed some brownish hills miles away near the snow covered rocky mountains. I pointed it out to Lily that those must be the great sanddunes, and she was underwhelmed - "that's it?" The Great Sand Dunes are dwarfed by the Alpine Peaks of  Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

We stopped at the park entrance to take a family picture at the sign, with Alpine snow Peaks in the distance and clear blue sky above.It was a cold but beautiful day at the park. We then proceeded to the visitor center to learn a little bit about the natural history of the Sand Dunes. In a nutshell, the sand dunes are formed due to three factors - sand from San Luis Valley floor, wind (blowing to the mountains and blowing back from the mountains during storms) and water (from Medano Creek and Sand Creek). Essentially the valley provides the sand, the opposing winds deposit sand at the location of Great Sand Dunes making the dunes to grow vertically, and the creeks bring additional sands to the area.

When we reached the foot of the sand dunes, the great sand dunes blocked our view of the mountains behind it, we focused our attention totally on the sand dunes. We were in awe - the smooth, aerodynamic curvatures, the beautiful sand patterns changing as we looked around.

We started to climb the sand dunes by walking along the ridges. A short distance into the sand dunes, we encountered Harvey and his family, who were resting at a small sand dune. Nick somehow was very active that day - he decided to climb the great sand dune. He and Harvey led the way, the rest of us followed. I was the last of the group in the ascend - stopping frequently to take pictures, and enjoy the vista. Despite the fact that Nick and Harvey were only a hundred yard or ahead of me, they were in and out of views frequently due to the constant curvature changes of sand dunes. About 30 minutes, Nick and Harvey reached a local peak of the sand dunes, Lily called them to stop because we did not plan to climb the summit - it should not be hard, we did not have sunscreen on, more importantly we did not have water with us. All of us were on the return trip, except me, I continued to the local peak before turning back.

Winter is apparently not the best season to visit the park - the Medano Creek is dried up, it is very cold there in the valley. We plan to visit the park again in a summer - to camp at the foothill for two days, to climb the summit of great sand dunes, to explore the sand dune wilderness

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