Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

People (bottom right) begin the long climb at Great Sand Dunes National Park

The sound of our huffing and puffing obscured the fact that Great Sand Dunes is the quietest national park in the US. We didn’t notice. How could we? Getting oxygen seemed a more pressing matter.

We didn’t set out to climb Colorado’s 650 foot dune just because it was there. We got a preview of dune climbing at Sleeping Bear and had some idea what we were in for. But views of miles of rippling sand stretched out before the snow capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains awaited us at the summit. We had to make the climb.

Our initial ascent up a moderate grade was painless enough, but we soon discovered something we didn’t expect. The dune was filled with mirages. Identifying the absolute peak once on the dune was impossible. Rising sand in front of you obscures what lies behind. On more than one occasion we trudged up what we thought was our final assent only to find still larger dunes obstructing our view; usually in a different direction than the one we were heading.

We also discovered that getting to the top isn’t a straight upward climb. The sand rises and falls like waves as it gradually builds to its apex. Getting to the summit requires climbing up each crest and back down the other side. While “High Dune” may only rise 650 feet, we climbed double or triple that height to reach the top; all on sand doing its best Stairmaster impression. One step forward, one step back.

Was it worth the effort? We think so.

Great Sand Dune National Park, Colorado

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22 Comments on “Great Sand Dunes National Park”

  1. customtripplanning December 27, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Great Sand Dunes is amazing…..did you enjoy the way the river flowed? How about the singing sands? You’re going to such fantastic places!!!


  2. Mary December 27, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    The Great Sand Dunes was news to us. We browsed through a brochure in our Taos Motel room and added it to our trip. What a wonderful surprise.


  3. atomsofthought December 27, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    One of my favorite places! Beautiful pictures!


  4. Carol Deminski December 27, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Sleeping Bear is on my list of National Parks I’d like to visit, and the Dry Tortugas in Florida too because they are some of the least visited and therefore it’s likely not to be packed with tourists whenever you go.

    I love your shots from here Brian, especially the final shot. Great job!


    • Brian December 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

      Beautiful water and great snorkeling out at the Dry Tortugas. It’s difficult to get to though, which is why people don’t go as often. I think we took a 2 hour boat trip to get out there for a half day of snorkeling. If you have the money to spend you can also take a sea plane which gets you there in a fraction of the time.


  5. Max Reynolds December 27, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    By the look of your pictures…ABSOLUTEY worth the climb. Another place to add to my list of places to go. Thank you for sharing them.


    • Brian December 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

      I consider it a job well done whenever we lengthen people’s travel wish list. Thanks for letting us know.


  6. Deano December 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Your description of the climb was excellent! I had never heard of this park until your post. Thanks, looks amazing and now added to my list of places to visit some day!


  7. Debra Kolkka December 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Amazing! Walking in sand is incredibly diffucult, well done. I’m sure it was worth the effort to get that view.


  8. f-stop mama December 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    Awesome photo! What a reward for all of your hard work 🙂 The view makes it all worth it.


  9. Cabbie Notes December 28, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Great photo of sand and snow combination!


  10. Kristina December 29, 2011 at 5:32 am #

    It definitely was worth the effort! What Fantastic pictures!!!


  11. Rachel December 30, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    Wow! It was already on my list but these pictures just send the point home – need to get there!


    • Brian January 1, 2012 at 11:09 am #

      It is probably one of the most spactacular places we’ve visted so far on this trip. Definitely make a point of going.


  12. Thom Hoch January 25, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I may know this NP is in Colorado, but perhaps others don’t. Wouldn’t a good article about a place like this include some basic location information?


    • Brian January 25, 2012 at 9:39 am #

      True. I sometimes forget that people don’t read all of my posts or follow links imbedded in the text or read the categories associated with a post – any of which would have informed someone that Great Sand Dunes is located in Colorado. Nonetheless, I should have included it in the text also. Not doing so was an oversight that is now corrected. Thanks.


  13. chuckandalison May 16, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    We’ve traveled to the Great Sand Dunes in CO a few times now, and they continue to overwhelm us with their beauty. Climbing the dunes takes mucho energy, especially as we found ourselves laughing so hard as the sand slipped us down two steps for every one we took. The Dunes hold a very special place in our hearts-I scattered the last of my brother’s cremains there (it was one of his favorite spots), and held a letting go ritual for him. Love this place~Happily Homeless


  14. bcorbett907 August 2, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Brings back great memories. For a similar feeling, you should check out White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico.



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