Relish the Astounding Nature of the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a real wonder besides the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains in a small city called Mosca in Alamosa County, Colorado, United States. Great Sand Dunes is the largest sand dunes in the whole of the North American Continent. There are about five huge dunes of over 700 feet. The shapes of the dunes keeps on changing because of the frequent blowing winds. The tallest dune of all the five is the ‘Star Dune’ rising about 750 feet (229 m) from the ground.
On the summit of the huge ‘High Dunes’ with the stunning view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind
A dog leads the way up for the hikers over the dunes
Sangre de Cristo Mountains seen from the peak of ‘High Dunes’

This was the trip I was planning for quite long time when I was living in a very small and beautiful city called Wamego in Kansas state.  And I made this trip happened in last September (2013), when I got a stretch of 4 days off, having Saturday and Sunday put together.

Google map view of the travel way from Wamego, Kansas to Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes is around 610 miles (981 Km) far away from Wamego, a drive of more than 9.5 hrs if u drive non stop! 😉 . Before starting up the journey, fueled the tank full (19 US Gallons) @ 3.53 USD a gallon in my car (Nissan Altima 2014) and got the water bottles ready for free (got the bottles filled from my office) and I was all set to hit the road to Colorado. Got in the car and started the journey around 12.45 pm from the highway KS 99. After driving thru KS 99 for 10 miles, had to merge on to Interstate highway I70. After hitting I70, I saw the GPS and it was showing a distance of 250 miles (402 Km) in the same highway.
Amazing view of the Great Sand Dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains

It was quite amazing to see such far  distance on the same highway. Then I switched on the music and kept on driving thru the beautiful highway I70 at exactly 78 miles per hour where the speed limit was 75 mph. After driven for over 250 miles, got to take the ‘Exit 76’ towards Oakley/Sheron Springs to merge on to the highway US-40W. At the start of US-40W, saw the ‘Shell’ Gas station. Stopped by there and the weather was quite hot around 98 deg F. Got some refreshment there for some 10 mins and again started heading towards Colorado. I knew by that time I was nearing Colorado.

View of the shiny Great Sand Dunes and the gloomy Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the eve of showers

I was looking out for the welcome board of Colorado which would say ‘Colorado Welcomes You!’ and I didn’t see any. I’ve always loved to see such boards when you cross certain boundaries of a state to state or from a country to country. And when the GPS said ‘Turn right on to CO-96W’, realized that I made to Colorado already. In certain areas, Colorado looks the same just like Kansas, the flat grounds. It was just green grass all over and I was wondering about that. After quite some miles, there were corn fields and wheat fields which were making the country side and my drive way absolutely beautiful.

View of the Great Sand Dunes from the back of the Visitor Center

The sun was getting down already and I turned on the head lights. All along the highway, there were several wind turbines making the location absolutely outstanding with a gorgeous sunset down the west. I was in a dilemma like ‘Should I get down and take some photographs?!’ as the combo pack of sunset, wind turbines and big mountains in the background were phenomenal. Since I had several miles to go to reach the destination, I kept heading towards the Great Sand Dunes without stopping. Then I saw a huge herd of ‘American Elk’ (a deer species) grazing around over a few distance from highway in the amazing dusk times.

Highway CO-150N towards Great Sand Dunes National Park

Then I reached the city Walsenburg and stopped by in a restaurant and had a couple of cheeseburgers as well, for the dinner. Took some rest there just sitting in the chair, surfing net for some time and continued the journey again. I saw the GPS and Great Sand Dunes was some 70 miles away. I was totally excited all along these 70 miles to get a glimpse of any sand dunes for the first time ever. And after driving some 50 miles, I saw the sign board saying ‘The Great Sand Dunes National Park 16’. It was just 16 miles away then and took a right on to the highway US-160W.

View of the huge ‘Star Dunes’ from the ‘High Dunes’

Then I reached the entrance of ‘The Great Sand Dunes National Park’ and the time was 10.30 pm then and there were no one at the entrance to collect the entry fee. I reached the visitor center and parked the car in the parking lot. Then I got down and was looking all around to get a glimpse of the Great Sand Dunes. It was quite dark even to get a slight and quick view of it. Was bit disappointed with that, having driven for over 600 miles. No worries, I made it anyways but I had to wait until morning for the big show.

Amazing Ripples in the Sand Dunes

I didn’t book any hotel room and because of huge rates for the hotel rooms all over the US even in a small town. I never do it unless it isn’t safe to stay in the car itself. So I got in the car, stretched out the seats, took a bed sheet out of my bag and started sleeping. And there I saved around 75 USD for the night and did put the same 75 to fuel the car anyways, the next day.

The ripples just look so serene without any foot prints

The best time to reach out for Great Sand Dunes is Spring & Autumn. In Summer it can get very hot and the temperature of sand can go up to 140 °F (60 °C) and with this grueling temperature of sand, it will burn your bare feetSo it is advisable to get over the dunes in the morning or evening time in summer.

Got up in the morning from the car and did all the refreshment in the visitor center. And I was all set to get over the dunes around 6.30 am. Got my back pack ready with a couple of water bottles and my lovely pet Canon EOS 1100D for capturing the beauty of the landscapes and wonders of the picturesque sand dunes.
View of the Great Sand Dunes and Sangre de Cristo mountains from far
Dunes looked so small from very far and as I approached and went closer by, it was too tough to even just walk over the sand for 20 meters. I must say that hiking over the dunes was the toughest thing I ever did in my life so far. One can easily hike over the hard rocks and can swim across the big river but to hike over the huge sand dunes, that’s quite killing and it does saps you out in no time. At times when I was hiking over, thoughts of walking down and going back to the visitor center crossed my mind often initially. But this was the only time I could make it to Colorado and Great Sand Dunes. Hence I made up my mind to reach out for the summit of the huge ‘High Dunes’ and since then I never looked back until reaching the peak of the dunes.
The view of the huge ‘High Dunes’ when I was approaching the peak of it
On the way to the ‘High Dunes’ many experienced hikers gave lot many tips on how to reach the peak of the High Dunes effectively and efficiently. Some told me to sip water often and some told me to walk slow. I got those strategies and added one of mine to those. Whenever I got tired, started capturing pictures out of my DSLR camera. As I was hiking over the dunes and altitude was getting higher, I felt difficulty in breathing and felt my nose was slightly bleeding. I didn’t give up. Took the hand kerchief out of my trouser pocket and wiped the blood in the nose and didn’t turn back and kept hiking over the dunes again.
The ‘High Dunes’ was about 699 feet (198 m). That was really really huge task to hike over. After the massive task of hiking the dunes over 90 minutes, I reached the peak of the ‘High Dunes’. And it was the first ever breathing that gave me a sense of accomplishment and a taste of victory though the breathing was increasingly becoming tough as the altitude was really high.  It was the greatest feeling I ever had after such consistent perseverance I had for those crucial 90 minutes of hiking.
Sangre de Cristo Mountains seen from the peak of the huge ‘High Dunes’
After relishing the beauty of the view of Sand Dunes all over and Sangre de Cristo Mountains from the top of the ‘High Dunes’ for some 30 mins, I decided to get back to the Visitor Center. The Sun was already out and it was around 9.30 am and the temperature of the sand was also gradually soaring up. It was so cool and fun to get down from the peak of the dunes. That was pretty easy and everyone would enjoy coming down so fast. It was unbelievable to hike over very tough and to run down so fast and easy. It was absolutely incredible.
When wind blows, it is always great to see the ripples in the dunes
Came back to the parking lot of the visitor center, got in the car and played a Tamil movie song ‘Thamizh Endral Naan Oru Thamizhan da’  with a huge sense of accomplishment I had by that time. It gave me so much of happiness to hear a song from my language in a foreign country  which accompanied with that happiness. And with that feeling to drive a car was so sensational with the song playing in full volume with all the window glasses down and whole car vibrating because of the music. I mean at that moment, that happiness meant the whole world to me. That was absolutely incredible. For that I was so grateful to the Great Sand Dunes which made me suffer initially and gave a sense of incredible accomplishment ultimately.
Google map view of the complete trip plan to Colorado

And then I tried some of the hiking trails in the nearby places well within the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve limits. After I was done with this beautiful national park in the evening around 4.30 pm, continued with my other plans of going to ‘Garden of the Gods’ in Colorado Springs, Colorado and some shopping in Castle Rock, Colorado. Traveled over 1310 miles (2108 km) to and fro. This complete trip was awesome guys! Colorado was beautiful!


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