When we arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park last night, the campground was full. We were directed to head 9 miles south to check out Zapata Falls for alternative sites. When we arrived there we saw the car in front of us take the last site. I was sure there were other BLM camping areas around but it had been a big day already, we just climbed Mt. Elbert this morning, so not having any other leads we drove on to Alamosa for lodging.
Awhile back I had seen a video of someone sand boarding on the Great Sand Dunes and I really wanted to give it a try. Before being turned away from the park last night I asked the ranger where we could rent boards and she told us of a small shop just outside of the park boundary. She also recommended getting there early because they sell out quickly. We followed her advice and stopped in at the 'Great Sand Dunes Oasis' shortly after they opened. The boards and sleds were not cheap to rent. I hesitated, but eventually decided to fork over the money to rent one of each. Spoiler: It ended up being worth every penny.
At the park we took some time in the visitor center to gain some context and appreciation for the dunes we were about to experience. We watched the classic National Park video and I learned that the park is home to the tallest sand dune in North America. Summit fever immediately set in and I kicked myself for not knowing this factoid before coming here. We had just climbed a 14er yesterday and I wasn’t sure if we would have enough time or energy to attempt it today, but I definitely wanted to. As soon as the video ended Karrie turned to me smiling and said, “You want to climb the tallest sand dune in North America don’t you?” I laughed and nodded in affirmation.
At the base of the dunes it was a day at the beach minus the ocean. Parents and children played in the sand, set up folding chairs and umbrellas, and layered on the sunscreen. Karrie and I jogged across the flat sand with board and sled in hand. Our shoes bogged us down so we took them off and threw them in my backpack. For whatever reason we left our socks on and began climbing up the nearest dune. At the first sandy ridge we waxed up our boards and took our first rides. It was a lot of fun. We climbed back up and rode down multiple times. Like snow sledding at your local park, it is a lot of fun but there’s no chair lift, so you get your workout schlepping your sled back up the hill.
We were taking a breather when a guy about our age from India asked if he could borrow our sled to take a ride. We said, “Of course! We’re taking a break anyway. Have fun!” He thanked us and rode down the dune cheering excitedly. After a couple rides he sat down and hung out with us at the top. We were all in great spirits and enjoyed getting to know each other. I learned that he had recently moved from India to Denver to attend graduate school in medicine. I said something like, “Wow! That’s a long way to go from home for school. Did you choose to move to all the way to Denver because they have a really good masters program?” He laughed loudly and replied, “Nah man! I moved here for the weed!” I thought that was hilarious.
After our new friend had departed Karrie suggested we try hiking up to the top. Hiking in sand is slow going, but the weather was perfect and we were having a blast. Higher up the wind was blowing sand in along the contours of the dunes, erasing the tracks of previous visitors and perpetually reshaping the landscape. We made our way to the peak where a lone stick marked the summit of Star Dune. We took photos and took in the view of the Sangre de Christos.
On the way back down Karrie asked if we should just hop on our sleds and ride to the bottom. It was a long way to the bottom these things don’t have brakes. I told her we should walk a little further. Before long she asked again if we could ride from here. I agreed, but insisted that I go first out of fear that it could be crazy fast and I didn’t want her to get hurt, plus my sand board was slower than her sled. I rode part way down the hill and slid to stop on flat shoulder. It was fast and a lot of fun but not too dangerously fast. I beckoned her down and took out my camera just in time to see her bombing down the hill!
All around great times at the Great Sand Dunes. I hope to come back and relive this day sometime again in the future.