Modified from my old Cloos on the Loose blog, April 2013.
Aside from a few sandcastles and kids trying to dig pits to the other side of the world, sand is mostly just endured from the parking lot to the water. No one likes sandy sandwiches or sandy feet or butts in the car and it's especially terrible to get sand in your pants.
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Mosca, Colorado is all that--minus the water--plus the pain of an uphill, downhill, uphill (repeat about a million times) walk through loosely packed sand dunes that kill your calves after just a few steps. It's a heck of a good workout, though, and the summit of High Dune, which is about 650 feet tall, is well worth the trip.
Geologists believe the Dunes were created about 440,000 years ago when the Sangre de Cristo Mountains were uplifted and the San Juan Mountains formed, creating the San Luis Valley. Sediment from the mountains and carried by streams was dumped into the valley, and Lake Alamosa formed and later dried up. Wind pushed the sand around and the biggest dunes have been pretty stable ever since. In the warmer months, when snow from the mountains starts to melt, shallow Medano Creek forms at the base of the dunes near the trailhead parking lot.
Of course, wind pushes the sand around every day, so the landscape is ever-changing, even if it's slow. The Great Sand Dunes aren't in any rush to go anywhere, but you should be in a rush to get to them. Because they're awesome.
1. Go to the Dunes. Really. They don't look quite as impressive from a distance, they sound like they're lame and you will be in pain until you get to the top. But I promise it will be one of the best of days you've ever had.
2. Don't wear shorts unless your legs need a good sandblasting.
3. It can get very, very windy at the peaks of the higher dunes, where there's nothing to protect you from the elements. Wear or bring sunglasses and something to put over your face.
4. Climb up the steeper dunes instead of walking the longer, more gradual routes. For whatever reason, it's easier, and it's a lot more fun.
5. Run and jump all the way back down to the car when you've had your fill of the Dunes. No hill is too steep and you will giggle all the way down, waving your arms maniacally. Proof.