Tallest Sand Dunes in North America!
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was the Great Sand Dunes National Monument until it was made into a National Park in 2004. It is located 35 miles northeast of the town of Alamosa in southern Colorado.
Geologically, the dunes are very interesting. Very long ago, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains were uplifted to about the height they are now. The San Juan Mountains, a neighboring range, were also being created by the explosions of very large, dramatic volcanoes. Between the two ranges, there is a very large area known as the San Luis Valley. Gradually, both of the mountain ranges were subjected to erosion and sediments gradually filled the deep valley. Water from mountain streams and rivers that originated in the two ranges then flowed through the valley.
It is believed that there was a very large lake covering the valley, which has been named Lake Alamosa. Then, through further erosion of the San Juan Mountain range, the lake was able to escape and drained out of the valley into the Rio Grande River.
After this lake and other small lakes receded, there was sand left on the floor of the valley. This sand began to be blown by prevailing winds across the valley. The sand began to pile up in a protected pocket against the mountains. Then, at times, winds blew in the opposite direction and because of this back and forth action of the winds the dunes grew to be very tall.
It is believed that the dunes began to form about 440,000 years ago, possibly even more recently.
As for activities, hiking the dunes is a big favorite. There is also horseback riding, which is allowed in most areas of the Park. If you’re interested, you can also take a guided horseback ride through the Park from the Zapata Ranch, which is next to the Park.
As in all of Colorado, choices for outdoor recreation activities abound!
- Camping is available at the Pinyon Flats Campground where there are 88 individual camping sites, 44 of these sites are first-come, first-serve and are available year-round. The rest are available for reservation from May 1st through September 15th.
There are also some RV campsites available but there are no services, such as electricity, available. Also, larger RVs will not fit in the campsites, so you may have to go to a different campground outside the park.
- Camping is also available at Medano Creek Primitive Road Campsites. These sites are only accessible by four-wheel drive, primarily because there are creeks that need to be forded along the way.
- There is also lodging nearby which includes the Great Sand Dunes Lodge, Zapata Ranch, which is located just outside the Park and the Oasis Campground and Motel, which has campsites and RV spaces available from April to October.
- Finally, you can find more campsites at the San Luis State Park, which is located only 15 miles west of the Park.
- In addition to all of these choices, backpacking is also allowed in the Park.
So, if you’re planning to be in southern Colorado, you may want to consider spending some time at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Even if you’re not already planning to be in the area, this unique National Park is worth the drive.