Though scientists can’t definitively say how old the sand dunes are at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado, a scientific paper published in 2007 suggests they formed about 440,000 years ago. Regardless, they look great for their age. These magnificent dunes are the tallest in North America and one of the most fragile and complex systems in the entire world. Joe and I were recently two of the 300,000 people who visit the park annually and I can't recommend it enough.
Take a Hike
The second we arrived at the dunes, Joe wanted to hike to the top and from the base, it looked pretty easy to tackle. It wasn't. The sand constantly shifts under your feet making a relatively easy dune that much harder to tackle. Also, be sure to start early in the morning to avoid heat exhaustion and burned ankles – that sand gets hot and immediately finds its way into your shoes.
Surf the Sand
Visitors to the park are invited to actually surf the sand dunes. Choose from either sand sledding or sandboarding (think snowboarding, on sand), steady your balance and glide down the sand dunes. Be sure you have the right gear though – snow sleds, snowboards and skis don’t work very well on dry sand. You can rent gear year-round from Kristi Mountain Sports in nearby Alamosa, or Great Sand Dunes Oasis (April–October) just outside the park entrance.
Ride a Fat Bike
Fat tire bikes are permitted where road and mountain bikes aren't, namely beyond Point of No Return (yes, that’s the name) along the Medano Pass Primitive Road. Before heading out for a day's ride or overnight camping, be sure to check sand conditions to be sure riding is advisable.
Discover Colorado’s Secret Beach
May/June is the best time to discover Colorado’s secret beach: Medano Creek. Late spring is usually the peak of the creek’s annual low, making it a terrific time to splash in the cool, snow-melt waters. The life of the beach is short; the creek usually retreats back into the mountains in July and August. While it’s there, have fun splashing, wading, skimboarding and sand castle building.
Get Lost in the Stars
Away from any city lights, stargazing is spectacular and as the park is open 24 hours a day, it’s easy to do. To see the most stars, plan your visit on a moonless night, or on a night with a late moonrise. The park also hosts a number of ranger programs, mostly from late-May through September, that include night sky watching.