Among the Earth’s many fascinating nooks and crannies, Great Sands Dunes National Park & Preserve stands apart for its rugged grandeur. Hugging the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range in southern Colorado, this 330 square-mile dune field contains the tallest sand dunes in North America. Protected as a national monument in 1932, this wondrous landscape became the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in 2004.
The extensive volume of sand comprising this park is believed to have originated in a vast lake, which was formed from glacial runoff at the end of the last ice age. As this lake dried, forceful winds picked up the sand that was left behind and deposited it along the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where it accumulated over thousands of years.
These days drivers entering the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve along its southern access are regularly astonished by the vista that greets them. Among its hundreds of dunes, five stand over 700 feet tall and more than thirty tower upwards of 600 feet. Hiking the Great Sand Dunes, either the smaller dunes at the edge of the park or one of the taller dunes, is an activity not to be missed. A round trip hike from the Dunes Parking Lot to the giant High Dune should last no more than two hours. And a 6-mile round trip hike to the colossal Star Dune will generally take around five hours.
Epic, almost surreal in their grandeur, the Great Sand Dunes stand as a testament to the mighty forces of nature, showing us how over time wind and water can build breath-taking mountains from the tiniest of stones. We’re fortunate to possess such a reminder of the power of nature and the fragility of its works, the appreciation of which may reveal to us anew the delicate beauty of this world in which we live.
John Oró, MD