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19 January 2019 / leggypeggy

Exploring the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes with Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background. Mt Herard is the tallest

Our recent trip to the beaches at Potato Point reminded me that I haven’t shared all the stops on our recent travels around the western part of the United States.

Not surprisingly, it was the sand at Potato Point that made me think of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in south-central Colorado.

First established as a national monument in 1932, the park has the tallest sand dunes in North America—Star Dune rises 755 feet or 230 metres.

Its reclassification to a national park and national preserve in 2004 was driven by the local people’s desire to protect the entire dune system, including the Medano and Sand creeks that run, intermittently, through the area. Initially the monument protected about 35,000 acres, but the expanded park and preserve is now about three times larger.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

With hands behind his back, Poor John heads back from the dunes

The dunes are believed to be about 440,000 years old and people have inhabited the area for the last 11,000 years.

Most of the sand comes from the San Juan Mountains, 65 miles to the west. The larger, rougher grains and pebbles come from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which run through the preserve, but only on the edge of the park.

Soon after we arrived, Poor John and I walked across the flat sand to the start of the dunes. There wasn’t any water running in the creeks. It was too late in the afternoon and way too hot to actually carry on up the dunes (many others were ahead of us), but we had a great view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

That evening we put up our tent at a privately-run campground, which is just outside the park. Only a few steps from our tent, there was a fabulous view of the dunes. The campground restaurant wasn’t quite so spectacular. The food was okay, but stone cold when it arrived. That said, we loved visiting the dunes.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

The view from near our tent

More about the dunes and sand
I was interested to learn that the park is made up of three distinct parts—the sabkha, the sand sheet and the dunefields.

The sabkha, which is located way beyond where we visited, makes up about one-third of the park. It’s a crusty formation that develops where the water table is very high. It’s an important habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife.

The sand sheet consists of low rolling hills that lie between the sabkha and the dunefields. The grasses and shrubs that grow there help to slow the ‘march’ of the dune.

The dunefields are what we visited. They look barren but support hardy animals and plants, including Indian rice grass and scurfpea.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Approaching the dunefields

A few comments relating to the US government shutdown
According to the park’s website, the dunes will continue to be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the government shutdown. However, the visitor centre and entrance station will remain closed and no visitor services will be available. I bet the campground and restaurant are open.

Also, two articles from The Guardian have caught my eye recently. Both relate to how US national parks are suffering.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Dunes as far as you can see

The first item tells of Dan Little, a retired data expert with the US National Forest Service and husband to Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown. This week, he was so dismayed by the filthy state of the public bathrooms at Mount Hood National Forest’s Sno-Park that he cleaned them himself. I was shocked by the ‘before’ photo that accompanied the article. You’d think, especially under the current circumstances, that people would make an effort to clean up after themselves. It’s not that hard to take your rubbish away with you.

Which leads me to the second item, which appeared in November. That was more than a month before the government shutdown. Even then the article’s authors were explaining the affect people were having on the US national parks—quite simply ‘tourists are loving nature to death’.

Both articles are short and worth a read. I should point out that, like Dan Little in Oregon, hundreds of passionate volunteers are carrying cleanup tasks in many national parks.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Crossing to the dunefield


Leave a Comment
  1. beetleypete / Jan 19 2019 9:35 pm

    Hot dunes, and cold food, You are hardier than me, Peggy. 🙂
    Good to hear that volunteers are cleaning up the parks, but also sad that it should be necessary.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 19 2019 9:37 pm

      Very sad that it’s necessary. But I can imagine how passionate the park personnel are. If I was there, I’d be out volunteering. You have to do, what you have to do!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Eliza Ayres / Jan 19 2019 9:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. onecreativefamily / Jan 19 2019 10:37 pm

    We went there 3 yrs ago. It is beautiful. If you get a chance go to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. They aren’t as big, but very breath taking. Love your photos.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 19 2019 11:04 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion. Will keep it in mind for the next time we are in the USA.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. jeanleesworld / Jan 19 2019 11:20 pm

    I love that shot you took near your campsite of the dunes in the distance framed by the trees. It’s almost like an old-school 3D image.

    Thanks for sharing awareness about our poor parks. At least there are some caring hearts out there doing what they can. Ugh, the state of this government…

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 9:16 am

      Great point Jean. That shot does rather look like a 3D image. And yes, ‘Ugh, the state of this government’.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. efge63 / Jan 20 2019 12:02 am

    Thank you for sharing this beauty!!!

    Great Sand Dunes

    Touched by your heartsong, I am like
    the wayward dunes we found that afternoon near Crestone
    that the winds had lifted and somehow
    lavished between the mountains and the grasslands.

    And you might guess by this, I mean I’m ambivalent,
    yet mesmerized, and sometimes resigned. Truth is, I don’t
    understand exactly what we’ve become, any more
    than sand particles in the drifts understand they are part of
    capricious dunes, sketched with gossamer swirls and footprints.

    Maybe we’re all that’s left of what we were.
    But, walking with you, I want to believe you are a visionary
    spirit calling forth lush growth around their parched ripples.

    What would you call that feeling when the ridged dunes,
    even with their desolate silhouettes, start to dazzle?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Almost Iowa / Jan 20 2019 12:39 am

    It is great to hear that people are pitching in to clean up the parks – but what kind of mindset is responsible for the mess to begin with?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 9:18 am

      Precisely, it’s not that hard to pick up after yourself!


  7. Sy S. / Jan 20 2019 2:07 am

    “Crossing to the dunefield” is the most interesting photo. The dunes are so vast and high as well… and no camels in sight LOL It is amazing that from your posts there are areas in the USA I just never knew about. And good to learn there are people volunteering to pick up trash and doing other things to bring the parks back to its natural beauty. Further, the dunefields would also be nice to photograph with some snow cover… and maybe at night time with all the stars and dunes in one photo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 9:20 am

      I like that photo too. It’s always hard to decide which pics to include. And now I’ll have to go back for some pics of the dunes with snow and stars.


  8. afterthelasttime / Jan 20 2019 2:36 am

    Terrific photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 9:20 am

      Thanks so much. You were the one who suggested we go there.


  9. lexklein / Jan 20 2019 2:40 am

    Beautiful views of these dunes, Peggy. We visited White Sands NP in November and really enjoyed those dunes, too – just not something one expects to see in the U.S.! There have been some rather apocalyptic articles about the current state of some national parks, but I’ve also read that many of these reports are quite exaggerated by the media (surprise, surprise). Yes, some people are using trails that are off-limits, and of course there are not enough employees to clean up the bathrooms, but the volunteer response has been amazing most places. We just returned from Volcanoes NP in Hawaii, and I would not have known by appearances that there was a shutdown other than the fact that we entered without paying. It galls me to think of some of the low-lifes who have caused real damage, but I hope it’s true that the volunteer efforts have turned the tide in most of the parks.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. pvcann / Jan 20 2019 2:49 am

    Well that was an education, amazing place.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. chattykerry / Jan 20 2019 3:06 am

    That’s another one for my bucket list. I noticed, with horror, on my news feed that vandals cut down some trees in Joshua Tree State Park. Some of them are 1000 years old.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. fragglerocking / Jan 20 2019 3:11 am

    Fab photos, the dunes look amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 10:29 am

      It would be great to visit often and see how they change.

      Liked by 1 person

      • fragglerocking / Jan 20 2019 12:13 pm

        The age old problem with holidays, they don’t last long enough. You have some great memories though. Lovely studies, really nice to see.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 12:47 pm

        We feel very fortunate to be able to travel so widely.


  13. Phil Huston / Jan 20 2019 3:23 am

    Hiked through (the shorter route) Armstrong redwoods in Sonoma (walking off the wine) last summer and as a state park it was reasonably clean. Its not just for lack of staff that these places get dirty. Discussion has come up on your site before about rude people, and it seems a lot of people are pigs. Serious pigs. I’m surprised at the total disregard for personal hygeine as well as for others. And the trash? What happened to pick up after yourself? Yet the gum wrappers and chip bags drop in place. In a nature “preserve”. And the public restrooms? Yuk. On a lighter note sand dunes are fascinating. They move. Believe it or not we had sand dunes in Oklahoma! They travel about a foot NW a year. Not as old as the Colorado or California dunes, and formed by a river they’re still enough to evoke, as you have, the exotic fairy tales of Arabian Nights, flying carpets and even poor old John the Baptist out there eating locusts and wild honey. Although I have never seen honey, wild or otherwise, in any desert environment I’ve visited. Maybe that it confused with dessert?
    As always, great pics and nice free trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 10:30 am

      Thanks for coming along. And you are so right—’What happened to pick up after yourself?’


  14. susan@onesmallwalk / Jan 20 2019 3:38 am

    I have heard of, but haven’t yet visited, this area, especially the Sangre de Cristo mtns (what a name!) I am hoping to pack up our tenting stuff and go on a national parks visit this spring, so appreciate your continuing hints. Well, assuming the shut-down is lifted, of course 😉 Thanks, LeggyPeggy

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Vicki / Jan 20 2019 9:32 am

    Those dunes are amazing. Crossing the dune field wouldn’t be easy with your shoes sinking into that high sand volume. Thank you for sharing, Peggy. I love ‘touring’ the world through your eyes and words.

    Sad to read of the effect of the Government Shutdown, but good to hear the community are taking it upon themselves to ‘clean up’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 10:32 am

      Yes, you have reminded me that it was a hard slog trudging across the sand. Still worth it. I wonder how much longer the parks can manage without their committed staff?

      Liked by 1 person

  16. dreamweaver333 / Jan 20 2019 1:12 pm

    Reblogged this on dreamweaver333.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Forestwood / Jan 20 2019 1:37 pm

    Oh dear: “loving nature to death” – such a sad state of affairs when people only see the environment for what it can give to them. Leave only footprints seems to be a better mantra.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 1:57 pm

      It certainly is the better mantra.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Forestwood / Jan 20 2019 2:29 pm

        I referred to the item you mentioned in my Sunday Sayings post just published. (former Proverbial Friday feature)

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2019 2:59 pm

        You’ve found some fantastic sayings.


  18. CarolCooks2 / Jan 20 2019 4:21 pm

    Wow, great images, Peggy, the size of those dunes remind of the ones @ Lancelin in WA which are a sight to see…It is such a shame that some don’t respect the world they live and kudos to the many volunteers who do 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Lynette d'Arty-Cross / Jan 20 2019 5:06 pm

    I saw the dunes many years ago. They are spectacular. I love your photos. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Beth Soloway / Jan 21 2019 6:04 am

    I don’t think my “likes” are recording. You have an amazing blog. It’s good to be back viewing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 21 2019 8:11 am

      Thanks so much. I don’t know why your ‘likes’ don’t record. Sorry about that. Really appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. theburningheart / Jan 22 2019 2:34 am

    Great post Peggy, about the abuse of National parks, and the state of the World on the brink of ecological collapse, by some disputed Global Warming, well, sadly the Parks just reflect that general carelessness, and indifference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 22 2019 6:48 am

      It’s so sad the parks have to suffer people’s carelessness, indifference and downright belligerence.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. The Snow Melts Somewhere / Jan 22 2019 6:58 am

    “Loving nature to death” – how descriptive of today’s mass tourism hype and so alarming too.
    The photos are beautiful and the last one especially striking – you can really see the scale!!!!!!! Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 22 2019 7:31 am

      We were surprised to see how crowded most of the parks were. Crowds wouldn’t matter so much if everyone respected the grounds and the wildlife, but we saw too much bad behaviour.
      And yes, that last pics does give a sense of scale.

      Liked by 2 people

  23. Invisibly Me / Jan 22 2019 7:38 am

    Amazing views indeed! I think you make a great point about the efforts people make to rectify the problem of how “‘tourists are loving nature to death”. Interesting about the government shut down and the impact that has on tourism, it’s quite an odd thing to think about generally (a government shutting down) and in the UK we hear bits about it but obviously experiencing it is rather different. Beautiful photos, thanks for sharing, those dunes really are incredible! x

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 22 2019 3:10 pm

      So glad you like the photos. In Australia, we hear quite a bit about the US shutdown, but it is hard to imagine. And we feel terrible for all those people not being paid.

      Liked by 2 people

  24. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / Jan 22 2019 1:06 pm

    Great sand dunes in the United States – IN THE UNITED STATES! I never knew this. Spectacular. But I’m so sad to know the condition of the park and probably all parks since the federal shutdown. Thank you if you are one of the guardian angel visitors that has stepped in to help maintain our national treasures. And if you are a federal employee trying to feed your kids – my heart goes out to you. You folks do an amazing job.

    Peggy, the view from your tent is truly spectacular – the chaparral, the dunes, the mountains, three distinct terrains. Just wow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 22 2019 3:13 pm

      That was a pretty good tent with a view! You can see why I had to share that one.

      Like you I didn’t know of the sand dunes until they were recommended to us. They are spectacular. Everything was open when we were there in the middle of 2018. Can’t imagine how much disarray the parks may be in now. But you are right to thank the federal employees and volunteers who are working tirelessly to keep things on track.

      Liked by 2 people

  25. shawnthompsonart / Jan 22 2019 1:44 pm

    Interesting sand dune. I’ve visited a few beaches along Lake Ontario where there are sand dunes. Our dunes are much smaller. But there’s this unique area called “Sand Bank Provincial Park in Prince Edward County. There is a long beach then inland there are a few small lakes and sand dunes 80 feet high. Not too high but it is still impressive. This is also a very good wine growing area for ice wine due to its micro climate close to the lake.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 22 2019 3:14 pm

      Amazing how there are sand dunes in the most unlikely places. Glad you mentioned ice wine. I bought some at the market in Toronto a few years back. Delicious.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Zambian Lady / Jan 23 2019 5:18 am

    It’s my first time hearing about this Park – interesting I must say. I visited some parks just after the shutdown when the situation was not yet very bad though porta potties were already being used.
    PS/… Poor John should trademark the “hands behind the back” way of walking. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 23 2019 8:52 am

      I think he has trademarked that style of walking. Friends from all over the world take pics of people walking that way and then send the pics to me.

      Liked by 2 people

  27. paolsoren / Jan 23 2019 11:21 am

    Dear Peggy, I have a request. What lense do you use to get those wide open spaces? I’ve tried and tried but can’t get anywhere near.
    Also; Do you always send Poor John on ahead so that you can get that forlorn shot of him heading back to camp?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 23 2019 1:58 pm

      Are you coveting my lens? If so, I’m not surprised. It is a wonderful lens that I bought especially for travelling. It’s a 15–85mm Canon. It cost a bomb, but I’ve had it for many years.
      As for Poor John, he’s a speedy walker. I’m almost always lagging behind, taking pics, rushing to catch up. And he almost never looks back to see if I’m there. If I was kidnapped, he’d never know. Would simply wonder where I went!

      Liked by 2 people

  28. Nilzeitung / Jan 28 2019 9:30 am

    I forgot the pizza in open.(fun)_:;:_:;_,.-.,–,.-.,.-(°L°)
    Still wonderful pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. macalder02 / Mar 1 2019 6:50 pm

    Las fotos dejan entrever unas maravillosas dunas. Un viaje inolvidable.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. My Family Guide / Mar 16 2019 1:48 pm

    These sand dunes looking amazing! It is on “the list” to visit. We recently got our Passport to Your National Parks and are anxious to get our stamps. Here is a little more about the Passport to Your National Parks:

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 11 2019 4:44 pm

      You’ll love the parks. Thanks so much for the link about passports to parks.


  31. Dimitris Karvelis / May 10 2019 10:58 pm

    ooooo!! Amazing Landscape !! i recently visited a place like this in poland !!
    Keep Posting!!
    “To Travel is to Live”
    here is my Blog
    created this Blog to share my new adventures travels and outdoor activities both in Greece and abroad!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 11 2019 4:45 pm

      Thanks for the link to your blog. I’ll check it out now.


      • Dimitris Karvelis / May 13 2019 8:16 am

        thanks you!!

        Liked by 1 person


  1. Exploring the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve — Where to next? – Nomad Advocate

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