Sand Dune Hike

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Early on our first full day at the dunes, we hiked to the top of High Dune. The park visitor guide indicated that the hike would be a 2-1/2 mile roundtrip with a 650 foot elevation gain and take 2 hours. Yeah, right.

Hiking the dunes was a thigh-burning challenge. We started our trek at 7am and reached the “summit” of High Dune (650 feet) at about 9 am. When we started, the dunes were completely in shadow. As the sun rose over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the shadows slid toward the base of the dunes. The sand heated up very quickly.

The sand was very fine, almost a powder. Climbing the dunes was a matter of taking one step forward and sliding a half step backward. By hiking in my footsteps, Holly’s climb was much easier, relatively speaking.

Holly taking in the view

Holly taking in the view

My method of climbing was to take 20 steps and stop to breathe for 30 seconds or so, then take another 20 steps.

We’d climb up a dune to the sharply defined ridge then follow the ridge to its peak. From there we sidled down a ways then slogged up to the next ridge. After 2 hours of heavy breathing and frequent stops to catch our breath, we reached the High Dune’s peak.

Holly at the Summit

Holly takes a well-deserved rest at the summit.

At the summit we tried to take a selfie but we sucked at it. I guess taking selfies is reserved for people much, much younger than us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be young at heart, at least once in a while.

After resting and admiring the view for a few minutes, we started running down the dunes like giddy children. Faster and faster we ran, our hiking boots kicking up showers of sand in front of us. The “hike” down was way, way faster than the hike up. And way, way more fun.

Going down!

Going down is way more fun than going up. And faster!

When we crossed Medano Creek, we saw water flowing slowly down toward the valley. It must have rained last night in the mountains.

Medano Creek

Water trickles down Medano Creek

For those who have the inclination and the money (or knows someone who has the money – like maybe mom or dad), you can rent sandboards and sand sleds at the Oasis Store located just outside the park entrance. Just remember that there are no lifts to the top of the dunes.

For us, one crawl climb to the top of a dune was enough to satisfy our curiosity.


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