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10 (Funny) Things I Discovered Camping at Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes

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If you’ve never been to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, you should go. If not for any other reason than to say you saw mountains of sand with zero ocean. Located in the San Luis Valley, these are the tallest dunes in North America at 750 feet, covering 19,000 acres of pure unadulterated sand. 

Here’s how it happened:Less than 440,000 years ago, glaciers feeding the river and lake that were once over the entire valley, melted very slowly. Water evaporated from them because that’s what happens when things melt. Then, westerly winds—a term I’ve heard more since living in Colorado than any other time in my life—picked up sand particles from the lake and river areas. Which isn’t at all surprising considering how small sand particles are. The wind lost power before crossing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—because it’s a very long name for a mountain range—and the sand was deposited on the east edge of the valley. This process continues today, and the dunes are slowly growing because the wind changes the shape of the dunes daily. Like snowflakes, no two dunes are alike.I recently went camping there with our two toddlers and here’s what I discovered:

  1. I’ll be cleaning sand out of ears and shoes for the next six years.
  2. Surprisingly, neither of my kids cared for sand outside of making a sand castle. I learned that even if there is enough sand to build an actual castle, they will remain unimpressed.
  3. No one cared for the thirty-three miles of dunes we had to climb to get to the sand to make a castle they thought was already built.
  4. Sand sticks to the tears that flow freely from the sad realization there is no sand castle to play in.
  5. Sand stings when it hits your face while traveling by way of westerly winds at 9,000 miles per hour.
  6. There are critters who can, and will, nestle inside your truck’s engine for the night and snack on soy-based cables.
  7. You might see said critter lifeless behind your camper the next morning.
  8. It may take you x amount of dollars in engine cable repairs to connect the dots between #6 and #7.
  9. You can lure a child up miles of dune with a snack-sized bag of Skittles.
  10. There is no sand-filled place quite like it anywhere. Except maybe the Sahara.

sanddunes1Aside from minor setbacks, we had a wonderful time. There are few places I’ve been to with desert-like sands that ride alongside a gorgeous mountain range, thick forests, and a little river—which was from all the rain that fell the week before. That makes it more like a drainage puddle, but we called it a river because “drainage” has no part in the average toddler’s vocabulary.

So, if you’re up for an adventure this fall, check out the Pinyon Flats Campground before they close this October. It’s a great campground with clean bathrooms. Sure, it’s a drive from Denver, but the Autumn sunrises and sunsets leave acres of gold across the soft, velvety dunes in that majestic way only fall can produce. It’s well worth the journey and all the sand.

Besides, where else can you vacation in Colorado and bring home endless reminders of your memories in the form of teeny tiny granules, delivered by the westerly winds off the Sangre de Cristo Mountains?

Christina lives with her husband and three kids in Denver. When she’s not neglecting laundry, or avoiding the grocery store, she’s writing, and making mediocre meals for her family. You can find her overthinking things on her blog, or follow her on Facebook.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 16, 2015

    I hate sand, yet LOVED my daughter’s class camping trip to the Sand Dunes last year. http://www.themilehighmama.com/adventures-summiting-the-highest-dune-in-north-america/

    Did I mention I hate sand?

  • comment avatar Lana September 16, 2015

    Spring is a great time to go as well with the snowmelt that results in Medano Creek on the eastern side. So fun to play in!

  • comment avatar Lana September 16, 2015

    Another tip is to watch the 15 min video at the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center. My kids loved all the interpretive displays and my kids’ favorite hike (apart from just going straight up) is the Montview Nature Trail.

  • comment avatar Christina September 16, 2015

    I don’t like sand at all but we lucked out with great weather (minus the one windy day). I’m looking forward to going back.

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