The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve contains approximately 85,000 acres and was established in September 2004. This park is where you will find the tallest sand dunes in North America. The sand dunes rise approximately 750 feet from the floor of the San Luis Valley. This valley is located on western base of the Sangre de Cristo Range. This park is also one of the quietest national parks in all of the forty-eight contiguous U.S. states.
These dunes are about 12,000 years old and were formed from soil and sand deposits of the Rio Grande River and its tributaries, which flow through the San Luis Valley. These sand dunes were formed by the westerly winds picking up sand particles and as the wind lost it power before it crossed the Sangre de Cristo Range, it was deposited on the east edge of the valley. The wind changes the shapes of the dunes every day. The dunes contain areas of black sand. This black sand are deposits of magnetite which is a crystalline black oxide of iron.
When you visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, you will see, in addition to the dunes, alpine lakes and tundra, ancient spruce and pine forests, and large stands of aspen. There are also six peaks that are over 13,000 feet in elevation. With the cottonwood, wetlands, and grasslands, you will find a habitat for diverse plant and wildlife species.
One place that you should visit when you are in the park is Medano Creek, which borders the east side of the dunes. It is located next to the Visitor Center and Bookstore. Fresh sand continually falls in the creek making small underwater sand dunes that like dams. These dams continue to form and break down so if you wade in the stream, you can see these surges of water that flow downstream. These surges look like small waves.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve is making the dunes accessible to everyone, including people with special needs. From the parking lot to the edge of the Medano Creek, there is an accessible mate for wheelchair access. Just above the creek, there is a viewing platform. It is virtually impossible to navigate a regular wheelchair on the dunes itself so the park has made a sand wheelchair that can be borrowed at the Visitor’s Center. There is currently one for adults and one for children.