People often associate the Centennial State with the iconic silhouette of the Great Rockies. Yet Colorado is one of the most geographically diverse states in the U.S., with dozens of ecosystems ranging from desert areas to alpine tundra. Few people know that Colorado is home to a beautiful and bizarre area where wind, water and rock have worked together to build the highest sand dunes in the United States.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a place of breathtaking beauty. In a stunning twist, giant dunes made of fine reddish sand, tower towards the blue skies of central Colorado, on the rugged backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The highest dunes ever recorded in the park measured more than 750 feet. The landscape is permanently shifting and changing form, as the constant westerly winds sweep over the outlandish scenery.
The dunes resulted from thousands of years of accumulation of sediments carried by the numerous creeks which flow from the snowcapped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As the waters head in the dry areas from the foothills of the mountains, they gradually sip into the ground leaving behind fine deposits of sand and small pebbles. The wind takes over, and picks up the fine sand, to deposit on the Great Sand Dunes. Visitors to the park often feel the effect of this wind, which constantly bombards them with the fine grains of sand.
For a place formed of sand, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is surprisingly wet. You can actually reach wet sand just by digging a few inches in the dunes, even on their tops. Water is never far away and this was the reason the federal authorities decided to protect the area in the first place. In 1932, the Great Sand Dunes were designated as protected areas, to defend it from the ever thirsty human influence of growing cities.
There is much more than sand in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The preserve encompasses a wide variety of terrains, from the mini Sahara desert, to alpine meadows, ponderosa forests and lush wetlands. Visitors to the 30 square miles park can admire the beautiful landscape created by the surreal combination of terrains, as well as a unique flora and fauna.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is easily accessible from the cities of Colorado. It’s placed at about 35 miles northeast of the town of Alamosa, and within a few hours of driving from Denver, Colorado Springs and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tourist can enjoy the unique experience of practicing skiing in the middle of the summer. Sand skiing, kite-boarding and other sports can be practiced on the soft, loose sand, which cushions the falls better than snow. In the places where water flows into the dunes, a beach landscape forms where numerous families have picnics and fun in the sun.
The Great Dunes National Park is truly a marvel of nature. The surreal combination of water and sand, mountains and dunes is a sight to behold, especially at sunset and sunrise, when the reddish light of the sun ignites the landscape and fills it with unmatched splendor. A trip to this amazing place will recharge your batteries and surely fill your soul with harmony.