Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado - Hiking

After soaking in the hot springs at Mt. Princeton, Roger and I continued south to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.  An hour before we arrived at the park, the dunes came into view as a tan colored blotch against the dark grey 14,000 foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  The sand dunes are an unexpected surprise in a landscape that is dominated by commanding peaks and rolling grasslands.  They seem out of place, but a rare combination of geography and geology explains the presence of the giant dunes and makes the park such a unique place to visit.

Entering Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

It was evening when we arrived in the park so we decided to set up and camp and relax, saving the hiking and exploring for the next morning.  We camped at the Pinyon Flats Campground inside the park with sites that can be reserved in advance.  I made our camping reservation in February and I was shocked that only a few sites were available so far ahead of time.  The place was packed and many sites had limited shade and privacy, but we lucked out with a fairly nice spot.  The next morning we headed down to the dune access area and made our way out into the giant sandbox.

View of the dunes from the visitor center

Grass in the dunes

Exploring the sand dunes

Beautiful views from the dunes

One of the most interesting aspects of the park is Medano Creek, a seasonal flow of water that skirts the edge of the dune field.  Medano Creek flows as snow melts from the surrounding peaks, transporting and recycling sand from the mountains back down to the dunes and feeding the wetlands of the San Luis Valley with fresh water.  In addition to being the life blood of the dunes system, Medano Creek is immensely fun to play in, with many people visiting the park to enjoy its beach-like features.

Walking through Medano Creek

Medano Creek

Enjoying Medano Creek

Great Sand Dunes National Park contains the tallest dune in North America at a height of 755 feet.  After wandering around the dunes for a while and burning our feet in the scorching sand, we finally made our way to this highest pile of sand to enjoy the spectacular views of the entire dune field.  People were sledding down the dunes and splashing in the waters of Medano Creek.  I was surprised at the number of people in the park and happy to see everyone enjoying their time in the great outdoors.  Great Sand Dunes has to be one of the most fun national parks to visit!

Tallest dune in North America

After exploring the dunes and Medano Creek, we decided to hike the 7 mile out-and-back Mosca Pass Trail.  The trail passes through pine and aspen forests and follows a small creek to an open mountain meadow.  There was nothing particularly exciting about the hike, but it was nice to explore some different ecosystems within the park.

Hiking to Mosca Pass

Mosca Pass Trail

Mosca Pass

We spent a second night camping at Pinyon Flats and packed up on Wednesday morning for the drive to our next adventure in Colorado.