Great Sand Dunes National Park
Neighboring Towns: Alamosa, Blanca, Fort Garland, Monte Vista
The United States Congress designated the Great Sand Dunes a Wilderness Area
in 1976 and it has a total of 33,450 acres. It has now been designated a
For century after century, the Rio Grande wandered through the San Luis Valley depositing sand along its bed and shores. When the river changed its course, the sand lay exposed to winds that predominantly blow toward the northeast. The winds forced the sand up against the bulwark of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and created the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado, a piece of territory unique in several ways. Reaching heights of 700 feet, these are the tallest dunes in North America, and the sight of them lying at the very foot of the snow-clad Sangres can be a bit unsettling at first. This is the only Wilderness defined as a saltbush-greasewood ecosystem, with hardy plants that include blowout grass, Indian ricegrass, scurfpea, and prairie sunflower. It's also the only place on Earth where you'll find the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle and the giant sand treader camel cricket. Kangaroo rats may be seen dancing lightly on the shifting sands, and the night awakens other interesting denizens of the dunes.
Camping is allowed, but not campfires. You really should stay overnight in order to appreciate the greatest wonder of the dunes: the ever-alternating colors and shadows as the sun moves across the sky and the moon rises.