The Great Dunes - Off the Beaten Path
"Just as the sand-dunes, heaped one upon another, hide each the first, so in life the former deeds are quickly hidden by those that follow after." - Marcus Aurelius
Colorado - A backpacker's wonderland
Colorado is unfair. Some states maybe have a few parks, other states hardly have any, and while I firmly believe that you can find beauty in nature anywhere, I also believe that Colorado is entirely special. The state has everything, and when I thought I had seen it all, I was blown away once more. I was about halfway to Wyoming from Texas and needed a place to stay for the night. I found that I was two hours away from a national park I had never visited. I never heard anything about Great Sand Dunes National Park, but the name alone was enough for me to drive a few hours out of the way for a place to stay.
I had no clue what to expect, but knew better than to let my guard down - Colorado has surprised me many times before and I wasn’t about to get caught flat-footed again. But there was no helping it this time, the Dunes astonished me.
Unfortunately, I was only able to stay one night in this amazing park, I had nowhere near enough time to explore, but I quickly placed it on my 'revisit list'. The night I spend among the Dunes was an incredible experience; it was also my first solo night camping.
The Great Dunes
As I approached the park, there was no evidence of deserts, and certainly no evidence of the largest sand dunes in North America. In fact the entire surrounding area was incredibly lush and green. I rounded a bend, and sitting right there, were massive dunes. They were contrasted with the greenery that was everything else. Nature has baffled me before, and many places in Utah left me thinking “how on earth did nature come up with that”, but this was different. The dunes were so massive, and so out of place, my reaction was to simply laugh.
I was extremely excited to start climbing the dunes. I found that you can actually rent sleds and brave the riding down the ridge lines. I decided that I wanted to live to at least see the eclipse, so I held off on getting a sled (though I will definitely get one next time I visit). To get to the sand, there was a very shallow stream that needed to be crossed first. The stream was freezing. I thought both the temperature and the water were also out of place.
A Night Among Giants
I didn’t even hike a ‘trail’. The dunes themselves are considered a wilderness area, you can walk as far as you want. Don’t underestimate the dunes, unlike movies, climbing even a single 700 foot dune is extremely exhausting.
I also have to say, that my campsite in the dunes has to be one of my favorite to-date. It was so surreal having the gigantic dunes blocking my view in every direction. The sand under my tent was soft and warm, and I slept extremely well.
I wasn’t ready to leave, but I had people to meet and mountains to climb in Wyoming. So without even taking a single ‘real’ hike, Great Sand Dunes National Park left an incredible impression on me. I can’t wait to go back and explore the sands.
If you have dreamed about exploring the mystical Arabian deserts, or braving the Sahara, I would recommend checking in your own back yard first. You will be amazed at what you might find.