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Escape To The Dunes

Alien World Awaits In Southwest Colorado

Story and photos by Reid Neureiter

For the GPHN

Looking for a fun weekend adventure that transports you to a seemingly alien world? 

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve sits on the eastern side of the San Luis Valley, at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range 226 miles south and west of Denver. 

The Sand Dunes provide one of the most spectacular and unique landscapes in North America. Sculpted by the wind blowing across the 50-mile wide high desert plain that is the San Luis Valley, sand is trapped at the base of the 13,000-foot Sangre de Cristos, forming the tallest dunes in North America and covering an area nearly 30 miles square. 

With snow-capped mountains on one side, and a Sahara-like dune-field on the other, the early months of summer are peak time to enjoy Colorado’s best beach, as snow-melt fed Medano Creek surges down from the mountains and snakes its way around the base of the dunes. With so much snowpack in the high country this year, there is a good chance the beach action will continue through August.

At high water, the creek is six inches deep and several hundred yards wide, providing ice-cold relief from the sand, which can heat up to 150 degrees on cloudless sunny days. A fit hiker can make it to the top of the dunes in an hour-and-a-half, and the effort is best made in the early morning or late afternoon. Other popular options are sand skiing and boogie boarding down the dune slopes.

Camping spots are available, and advance reservations are recommended for weekends when the Creek is flowing. For more information about visiting the Great Sand Dunes, see the National Park Service’s website: 

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