We enjoyed our time in Dillon and hated to leave the cool mountain temperatures, but it was time to move south. The journey was not a piece of cake since we had to cross over three mountain passes including Poncha Pass, Trout Creek Pass and Hoosier Pass which was at an elevation of 11,539 and at the Continental Divide.
Our destination was Great Sands National Park and Preserve. This national park is located in the middle of nowhere. We had very limited Verizon but Bill was able to improve the signal with our cell phone booster.
The park was first named a National Monument in 1932 and was designated a National Park in 2004. The park is comprised of 107,342 acres with the preserve protecting an additional 41,686 acres. The dunes cover thirty square miles. We stopped by the Visitors Center and saw an interesting movie about the park.
These sand dunes are the highest in North America both in height and elevation. Some of the dunes are up to 750 feet tall. Who would have thought the highest sand dunes in North America would be found more than a thousand miles from any ocean beach?? The sand dunes have been building and shifting for eons due to the San Luis Valley’s unique wind patterns which trapped the sand along the west face of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.
The park guide basically says most of the sand comes from erosion of the San Juan Mountains over 65 miles to the west where the sand grains are shattered by freezing and thawing and then tumbled by winds and streams. Larger grains of sand and pebbles also come from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Sand and sediment from both mountain ranges washed into a huge lake that once covered the valley floor. As the lake was reduced, southwesterly winds bounced the sand grains against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where they were trapped by the tall mountain ranges. Northwesterly storm winds blast through mountain passes piling the sand back on itself which creates North America’s tallest sand dunes.
Each spring the Medano and Sand Creeks carry snow melt through the park at the base of the dunes. The water recycles sand and provide a lifeline for the plants and animals in the park. In late spring and early summer the creeks are swollen and we saw pictures of children swimming and playing in the water. Now, in late summer, the creeks are almost dried up. You can see in the pictures wet looking places where the creeks are almost dry. But still enough water to get our feet wet. It is all so amazing!
There were people climbing up the dunes and the park rented sleds and sandboards for sliding down. But with sand temperatures up to 150 degrees in the summer, we passed on hiking the dunes. The dunes were very hot and absolutely no shade.
While this was a fascinating national park and we are really glad we visited, it is very remote and probably not a park we would return to in the future.
Next up our last stop in Colorado