Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is located in Colorado in the United States. The park occurs in what is known as San Luis Valley in the far eastern areas of Saguache and Alamosa counties. The area was first established as a national monument in 1932. It was not until 2000, when Congress passed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, that the area became a national park. The park underwent an expansion when the government, collaborating with the Nature Conservancy, acquired 97,000 acres from the Baca Ranch.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve holds North America’s highest dunes. These dunes stretch across 19,000 acres and reach 750 feet at their highest point. It is thought that the dunes began forming around 440,000 years ago, when the Rio Grande and its tributaries ram through the area. Winds blowing in from the west carried the sand from these waters through the air and dropped them in the valley. Because this process is still active today, the dunes are still expanding. Black sand, a mineral deposit of magnetite, is present in areas of the dunes.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve does not hold weather that is typical to other desert climates, due to its location in a “High Desert” region. Although summer temperatures often average 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, cooler temperatures are common. During the winter season, the temperature can drop to below freezing at night. The area receives about eleven inches of rainfall throughout the year, which is typical to a desert climate, and although snow does fall at the top of the dunes, it evaporates quickly.  The park contains many habitats including grassland, wetland, and desert habitats, so a variety of wildlife is able to thrive in the area.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers many attractions and activities to visitors. One of the most popular sights is Medano Creek, which is located near the Visitor Center and Bookstore. This creek never forms a continuous flow due to the continual movement of sand and underwater sand dunes are formed. These are small but can be seen moving for as long as one or more minutes. These movements create the illusions of waves made from water, and when rains are heavy in the park, the dune waves can reach as high as one foot. Visitors can view this stream, build sand castles in it, or go skim boarding across it, all of which are popular activities. Other activities include hiking, sliding down the sand dunes, and visiting the Visitor Center and Bookstore. The park is located near many cities including Pueblo, Canyon City, and Denver, but the closest city is Alamosa.

Image Caption: Great Sand Dunes. Credit: Hogs555/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)