Neither one of us had ever heard of the Great Sand Dunes National Park but Walt’s brother-in-law, Dave, has assured us that we’ll love it.
We turn off the highway and have a 12-mile drive down along the Sangre de Cristos Mountains before we see the dunes looming to our left. It’s so odd to have these beautiful Colorado mountains on one side and the desert on the other.
We snag a campsite and set up before heading up to the overlook trail where we sit among the juniper and pinyon trees and enjoy beautiful views of the dunes and mountains. We’re waiting until evening to hike the dunes because the sand gets very hot and the temperature today is in the mid-80s.
We lounge a bit, enjoy a late lunch and then hit the camp store for a pre-hike ice cream sandwich.
About 4:30 we decide it’s cool enough to attempt the dunes. The high ridge we can see rises some 600 feet, which shouldn’t be that hard of a hike, except that it’s sand, which means 1 step forward, ½ a step back. Later I read an article that says walking in sand is 2 ½ times more difficult than walking on pavement. At least 2 ½, I would say.
There are no trails; we can just pick where we want to start, where we want to end and plot a course between the two points. We take a long, circuitous route up the dunes, taking it very slowly with lots of rest stops. We finally arrive at the top of the ridge and look out westward over many more acres of dunes. I later read that we could have camped out on the dunes, which sounds like a fun adventure. Unfortunately that would have meant carrying our full packs up the dunes and that was never going to happen.
We plot a much more direct descent. Hiking downhill in sand reminds me of one of my favorite hikes a few years ago: Robertson Mountain in Shenendoah, which is very steep, and there was hard enough snow that I could walk mostly on top of it on the way up but on the way down, I could let gravity pull me fast because eventually my weight and momentum would pull me through the top layer of snow, slowing me down before I crashed into anything (tree, rock, etc.)
Walt and I both agreed that hiking down a sand dune is about 2 ½ times easier than coming down a regular mountain.
Even better, we have hiked fast enough that the camp store is still open. We feel that we’ve earned our post-hike ice cream sandwiches.