Great Sand Dunes National Park has the tallest dunes in North America, reaching heights of 750 feet above the surrounding valley. The Great Sand Dunes are a product of wind and “walls” formed by the surrounding mountain ranges. The prevailing southwesterly winds blow sand across the San Luis Valley. When the sand reaches the high Sangre de Cristo mountains, they are deposited in the valley. Powerful storm winds frequently blow from the northeast, shifting the sands back into the San Luis Valley, and over thousands of years, some scientists estimate about 12,000 years, created a dune field that now covers approximately 40 square miles!
A long entrance road leads to the main entrance and visitors center. The above view is one of many great views of the dunes and Sangre de Cristo mountains beyond the dunes. There is a lot more to experience in the park than just the dunes, but since we only had a day to spend in the park we decided to experience the dunes! One of the most popular hikes, is to hike to the top of High Dune. It is a strenuous hike, with an elevations gain of 700 feet! High Dune is actually not the highest dune in the park, but is called High Dune because it’s the highest dune you can see from the parking lot!
We started our hike at the dune parking lot at an elevation of 8,029′, where we learned a very valuable piece of information, and that is to hike on the ridges of the dunes since the sand is more firm there!
It took us an hour and a half to hike to the top of High Dune, the altitude there was 8,739′, a 710′ elevation gain. While not quite like the view from one of Colorado’s 14,000′ peaks, it still felt like we were on top of the world! Amazingly, it took us a mere 20 minutes to get back down to the parking lot from the top…you plant one foot and slide several feet. It was a lot easier and faster going down!