The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are easily my favorite mountains in the United States, and have been since I was little. I’ve stayed in them in both New Mexico and Colorado, but I’d never traveled to Great Sand Dunes National Park which comes up against the range.
The sand dunes here are different than the sand dunes at White Sands in New Mexico or Monahans State Park in Texas. You can’t drive right up to the dunes, they are a bit of a walk away. It isn’t too far, but mileage in the sand dunes is deceptive. What seems to be right in front of you might be quite far ahead.
I will say that I prefer White Sands to GSDNP because of this. I liked the ability to drive from place to place and hike up the dunes without tiring first. The heat can also be a big factor at both in the summer, and being able to have lots of water available near you in a vehicle can be a plus.
Sand dunes totally capture my attention. Their ever changing nature and the swirling sand in the wind is somewhat mesmerizing. I got up before the rest of my family and headed out to spend some time with the dunes at sunrise before everyone else awoke.
When I was a girl, the National Park was only a National Monument. It changed somewhat recently to help protect the water contained within the site. You can actually dig in the dunes a couple of inches and hit wet sand, and you have to cross a flowing creek to get to the dunes themselves. While it feels like you are in the driest desert when you are on a dune, it is pretty easy to see that perception is incorrect.
You can rent a sand sled for around $20 a day at the Oasis gas station and store just outside the gates. This is not a sand sled. This is a cheap plastic snowsled. It didn’t work very well, but the kids tried it and had fun. James was not feeling well (somehow he got the flu in the height of the summer) and we didn’t get to spend much time trying the sledding. If circumstances had been different, we would have definitely rented a sled and maybe a sand board. The other visitors that were sledding near us were having a lot more luck with their rented boards.
Regardless of the success or failure of our sledding, the children consider this morning to be one of the highlights of our two week roadtrip. Considering all the things we did, that’s saying something. I’ve got it down as a trip to make again, and this time make sure everyone is well and ready to do some sand boarding.
This is the largest sand dune in North America. As you can see, it is hikeable. We weren’t up for that hike during our visit, but it is possible! I bet the view from up there is pretty interesting.
I took this night photo of the park from the Pinyon Flats campground. It is the only campground in the national park, and we had a good time staying there. The “reservation loop” is well positioned for a quiet camping experience. This is right out the back of our camping site. The deer were fearless and came right into our site on several occasions.