Sandbox Bunch – Me, Dillon, Rebecca, Michelle and Brooke
The Sangres are an area of wild contrasts. A linear range running from Salida all the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the mountains are characterized by prominent, jagged conglomerate masses, rising straight out of the San Luis Valley. Much has been mentioned throughout this site of the intimidating nature of its mountains, and long, arduous approaches to the alpine. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a nice change of pace from this and is the perfect place to exercise your inner child for a weekend, or longer. You feel a world away – literally. This place doesn’t fit in with its surrounding landscape, or the rest of Colorado for that matter. When I think of seas of wavy, parabolic dunes, I think the Sahara of Northern Africa. I don’t want to sell myself short, but I’ll admit the odds of me ever venturing to that part of the world in this lifetime are slim, so the Great Dunes of Colorado will have to be my Sahara. At the very least, this place is just another reminder you don’t have to travel across the world for a unique little adventure.
A little then and now. Last time I ventured down to the Dunes, it was mid-spring of 2007. I took a half day at work, got down to park around late afternoon, got a camp permit from the visitor’s center and nabbed a spot without detours at the Medano Creek primitive campsite area. I recall driving by the campground within the park boundary, Pinon Flats, and even seeing a couple open spots. This was late-May and Medano was flowing pretty good – which usually constitutes peak tourist season. Jump ahead to 2014 in the booming metropolis that is Colorado. We all left work at 4:30pm and wouldn’t find a place in the San Luis Valley within 20 miles of the park to pitch a tent till 12:30am, after everything was said and done. From 12:30 on, the weekend went flawlessly without much additional stress, but finding a place to sleep was a character building experience. Pinon Flats (which resembled a shanty town in Rio), Medano Creek, Zapata Falls and San Luis State Park were at 100% capacity, so we utilized the local BLM land down the road, which ended up being our home for the weekend. I’m not sure if this is just a sign of the times, or just a lot of people with the same exact plans on a spring weekend – but just a little heads up for future takers.
Anyways, enough of the negative. Our BLM spot (which happened to be along the side of the road to Lake Como) fed all our needs and we were treated with a fantastic view of Little Bear.
Morning awoke and we moseyed on in to the park after some breakfast. Dillon actually decided to go for a walk that morning, which turned into a trek down 50% of the Como road, which turned into a journey towards the Dunes. We found him along the side of the highway, gaping at the sights and gave him a lift the remaining couple miles into the park.
The park these days, which was designated a National Park in 2004, charges 3$ (per head) and most of the rangers don’t know the difference between High and Star Dune. Courteous bunch though. We started to drive in to the High Dunes trailhead, but witnessed a scene that resembled GOBAR (Gaped Out Beyond All Recognition – a Benners term), or Times Square….on New Years. Dillon goes “we should find another way in”, so we busted a U and surged further down the road. It eventually turned to dirt, equipped with a sign that recommends 4wd. The Outback made quick work of the sandy road and we found a nice, much less congested spot known as Castle Creek. There was a picnic table, a nice “beach” and a giant 500 foot wall of sand – we were finally given the green light to be kids again. After a quick lunch, Dillon and I decided to go exploring while the girls stuck around the beach, playing in the sand.
Some shots around Castle Creek:
Dillon and I agreed that 50 vertical feet in sand = 500 vertical feet on stable rock. It redefined 2 steps up, 1 step back. We finally reached a shelf after 30-40 minutes of suffering and were greeted with some surreal scenery.
Somewhere along the way we topped out on the highpoint of the park – Dune 8860. It was an irrelevant summit and we couldn’t tell which dune was the highest, so we conducted an exploratory recon and topped out on them all. When we got tired of climbing up this sandboxes, we met back up with the girls – after an anti-climatic sled ride down the 500 foot face (anyone have any ideas for sand wax?).
We relaxed at camp….
Then re-entered the park later that evening for some sunset shots :
It was a peaceful evening to say the least. We all rested well that night.
Sunday was centered around sleeping in and eating at Moonlight Pizza. The sun heated up the tents too early, forcing us out around 8:30am, so we had time to kill. I decided to take the scenic route through Saguache, over North Pass to Gunny, and then East over Monarch in to Salida. Beautiful country around there, and tons of BLM land. We got our feast….