COLORADO: Not Just for Arrakis – Colorado’s Dune Sea

 

“It is a universally acknowledge that a single man in possession of a good hiking staff must be in want of a wife to share it with.”

When you tell your husband that “sure he can plan the honeymoon” this is a sign that you have not been involved for very long. Especially if said husband has an almost pathological obsession with sand dunes.

visitor

Location: Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

How you get there: Google it! Then drive all the way out to the sign that says “Point of No Return” which is a great place to park if you plan to sleep out on the dunes.

Point of No return

Time for hike: Their is no set distance. This place is most fun if you just wander around. Though the Mosca Pass Trail is a nice change after spending a day on the dunes.

Best season to do this hike: Summer, July-ish. The sand dune gets VERY cold at night.

Trails to Take

You can reach the dunes via the Medano Pass Primitive Road (which runs beyond the Point of No Return sign). Just cut off the road when you reach a good spot. Wade the river, climb the dunes, and enjoy. Just remember that this dune field is many miles long, and you can get lost through your own stupidity.

Great places to visit if you only have a day or so include the Mosca Pass Trail, which gets you into the woods and if it’s hot, out of the heat while climbing the historic pass that the original settlers to the area entered by. Unfortunately, if you are going during the summer you may run into a lot of snakes…which necessitated us turning around early because my husband chickened out after we walked over the 5th one.

deer
Get up at sunrise to see the mule deer herd that grazes near the river at the base of the dunes

 

BE WARNED!

  1. You cannot go to the bathroom on the dunes, so if you are planning to sleep out on the dunes visit a restroom first! Apparently because the dunes are so dry any human excrement takes something like 30 years to break down. The park service will appreciate your cooperation in not turning the sand dune into a turd dune!
  2. You can camp on the sand dunes for free, (unlike the campgrounds), but you have to camp out of sight of the rest of the park so you don’t ruin people’s view.
  3. The only way to get to the sand dune is to wade the river. The river is fairly shallow, but can get very high if it rains in the mountains.
  4. On the way here, as you drive the gorgeously stark landscape, you may encounter an unusual phenomenon – rest areas off the road that don’t have water. Bring your own water for the drive and the hike.
  5. The top of the sand dunes, in the dark, is an incredible place for night photography, and when the sun comes up for sunrise photography. Take time to enjoy this.
  6. The Medano Primitive Road is for four wheel drive and experienced sand drivers only! We had a 4 wheel drive subaru and abstained from trying it because you almost need sand tires. The towing fee if you get stuck is massive, so enter at your own risk.
  7. If you are camping on the dunes (and you should!) get as far down the dunes as you can from the visitor’s center. This gives you a more private setting and higher dunes to sleep on.
  8. Sand will burn bare feet in the day, but at night the dunes get extremely cold. Pack a heavy sleeping bag
  9. The wind on top of the dunes will flatten tents. Be prepared to reinforce yours and set up the tent BEFORE sunset. We had to hold ours down with hiking poles because stakes couldn’t get a grip in the sand.
  10. Perhaps because of all the sound absorbing sand this park is incredibly quiet, especially up on the dunes. It’s kind of relaxing.
  11. The river/creek you cross to reach the dunes gets these weird surges of water on it every few minutes, (though at the time we had no idea why). Apparently (thank you Ye Olde Internet) mini sand dunes form in the river, acting like dams. When the dams fail, a small surge of water goes downstream.
  12. If you are  not from a high elevation area hiking in the sand dunes is going to be really challenging and wear you out. Lower oxygen is a killer when you are used to the Appalachians!
  13. Watch out for snakes near the top of the Mosca Pass Trail.

In sum: There is no greater test of a marriage than to ON YOUR HONEYMOON have your husband jovially wake you up at 4 am (after keeping you up till midnight photographing stars) in 30F to hike 1/2 a mile down the sand dunes, wade across a freezing river and drive 4 hours to the next trail head (which has snow on it in July) without killing him. If you can survive this, your marriage can survive anything.

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