On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
Great Sand Dunes: southeast Colorado, near Alamosa.
Driving south through the San Luis Valley, at the foot of the 14ers, you see a stripe of tan, and as you get closer you realize it’s Great Sand Dunes. Thirty square miles, 750 feet high, and they’ve been there for about 400,000 years.
We were here during the two months when Medano Creek was flowing. It washes sand from the east side of the dunes out into the valley. Whereupon the prevailing winds pick it up and blow it back onto the dunes: nature’s recycling! That’s one reason they haven’t moved in so long.
Medano Creek brings out a beach crowd, playing in water about a foot deep. The dunes also attract hikers, of whom we spotted two or three that made it to the top. It’s not great footing: hot (140 degree) soft sand. I did a mile loop on the vegetated side and it was quite a slog. But it might have been easier if I had found the gravel trail. Sigh.
Dunes from Zapata Falls trailhead, about 1,000 feet above the valley floor.
Dunes from Park road.
The busiest part of Medano Creek, near the parking area.
The trail I walked on. There were no markings, so it was bushwhacking until I saw this path. Fortunately, the parking lot that was my destination was in plain sight the whole time.
Wow, that hiking on the dunes looks tough.
I took my daughter and 2 of her friends to CO in October of 2016 and the Great Sand Dunes was one of the places we visited. We got there early and hiked the dunes. Once you figured out to walk on them it was not too bad. Plus it was cool so no scorching sand. I do highly recommend visiting them if you can. You can even sled/surf down them. They have places you can rent boards.
Edited to add: wonderful pictures!! I have really enjoyed this series. Thanks for sharing Frosty.
One of my favorite places in Colorado. I first visited in the mid 70s on a Boy Scout camping trip, went there a few times in college with friend, and have gone back about every 5-10 years since. The hike to the top is a slog, but worth it just for the thrill of running down the 500 foot tall slip face of the dunes. You can also rent wooden sleds from a vendor outside of the park that allow you to sled the face of the dunes at pretty high speed.
One of my most memorable hikes was on college, hiking to the top of the dunes under a full moon.
About time to go back.
@eclare: I’ve been to the San Luis Valley twice but never walked the dunes, just looked at them. The valley is very flat, so I could see them from miles away. I Iike flat walking, and the town of Alamosa had plenty. There is a park along the Rio Grande River just a couple blocks from downtown that has a few miles of trails, and the town itself is nice to walk around.
There are three National Wildlife Refuges in the Valley. Baca N.W.R. adjoins the National Park on the west, and Monte Vista N.W.R. is a few miles northwest of Alamosa, and Alamosa N.W.R. is a few miles southeast of town. There is a Crane Festival in the spring that attracts a lot of folks.
Alamosa was a great town to visit, I thought, although it was quite cold the times I was there. Quinerly unfortunately hit town during a heatwave earlier this fall.
Thank you, Frosty for these and your other western photos.
My aunts had a “cottage” (slept 14!) in an old resort in the dunes on the east side of Lake Michigan between Benton Harbor and South Haven. Most of the dunes had forested over but there were a couple bug active dunes about 120 to 150 feet tall and extending half a mile in from the beach. We climbed and hiked on them and played with the critters like Sand Lions that made them a home. We dug our feet into the sand to keep from burning.
Great scenery at Great Sand Dunes, thanks!
BTW isn’t the location in SW Colorado? I recall seeing the Sangre de Cristo peaks (or was it San Juans) from Arches NP in Utah.
Ah, my neck of the woods (ok, it’s across a mountain range, but whatever). But currently I am in Maryland and my skin and hair are appreciating the moisture in the air! And the beautiful weather!
@Dan B: No, the Sangres and the San Luis Valley are in south central Colorado. The peaks that you see from Arches are the La Sals, a small range in Utah. Further south from Arches the San Juans in southwestern Colorado are visible.
Interesting landscape. Walking in sand sounds pretty challenging. Nice pictures.
@TinRoofRusted: October is a great time to go to hike the dunes for all the reasons you mentioned. It is a slow slog but so much fun coming down!
Thanks everybody! We’re currently making reservations for the 2022 Road Trip – westbound on the southern tier, then California and Oregon coasts and back east via Wind Cave and Badlands.
@frosty: I’ll look forward to photos next year. Wind Cave is really cool. When you’re there you should also check out Jewel Cave NM, another great cave. One of the jewels in the Patk Service. There are geologists who think it may connect to Wind Cave 20+ miles away.
What wonderful description and photos — especially the two with
tiny antspeople walking on the dunes. Thanks, frosty.
J R in WV
Great photos of a wonderland place. This is a reminder of just over 50 years ago, summer of 1970, while I was in training at Great Lakes Naval Station. Several of the guys and I went north to a state park with sand dunes on the lake shore. We had a great time, was beautiful, until in the afternoon a front came through.
We had taken the commuter train north to the Zion station, walked into the Dunes state park. After the rain came, we were walking again, and came to a little book shop, where we took refuge from the showers. Was a tiny building, several guys were there, and after a few minutes I realized it was a John Birch Society facility — was amazed. We were all anti-war sailors avoiding the draft, went back out into the rain storm as preferable to being with Birchers. The book titles were a give-away, tots amazing even back then! Gone now, according to Google Maps, quite a memory though.
Speaking of dunes, the local NPR station had a story about how Frank Herbert had been sent to Florence, OR in 1957 to do a story on how the beach dunes there were threatening the town, and that his fascination with dunes and their impact on humans was the start of his idea to write the SF novel Dune. The dunes in Florence are impressive, for sure. Without the vegetation (part of which is a non-native aggressive grass and non-native hardy broom shrubs), they definitely move. There’s a long stretch of beach with the vegetation holding it all together; it’s a real surprise to follow the trails up and over the stabilized dunes and down to the long open stretch of coast below. The access points have signs on each side of the dune so you can find your car again in the many small parking lots along a few miles or park land.
@Dan B: I rode my bike to Warren Dunes in that general vicinity from Rockford Illinois when I was in High School. Those dunes are pretty darn interesting.
Thanks for these photos. It all looks pretty surreal!