Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Hike We Like - Great Sand Dunes

The sun was sunny.
The wind was windy.
The sand was sandy.
The hills were hilly.
The heat was ..... hottie?


This shot is ¾ of the way into our climbing hike, just to grab your attention. But let's take a few steps back.

We drove up from New Mexico, and found a decent campground near Blanca, Colorado. We ate lunch in the RV, and from the kitchen table window we looked up at spectacular Mt. Blanca; 14,385 feet elevation.

We arrived at the parking lot of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, in southern Colorado. The Visitor Center is at 8,175 feet above sea level.

           We looked out at vast piles of sand. Piled high and wide. 19,000 acres of sand. In 1932, President Hoover declared this a National Monument. In 2004,  under President George W. Bush, it was designated a National Park.

Here, Mary points out our destination, the highest point in the Great Sand Dunes; Star Dune, at 750 feet (230m.). But distance-wise, it's a long haul from our starting point.

These are the tallest dunes in North America. They cover about 11% of an enormous sand deposit that spreads more than 330 square miles.

How did this happen? Prevailing westerlies picked up sands from the San Luis Valley, the only true desert in the southern Rockies, and carried them eastward. Where the winds rose to funnel through the Medano and Mosca Passes, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the wind lost power, and deposited the sand on the east side of the valley. Located 30 miles (50km) northeast of Alamosa, Colorado.

We laced up our running shoes and started climbing these massive dunes. Up the loose sand, sinking in deep, losing ground with each step.
We walked only 1½ miles out, but up, up, UP  

Ahh, some nice Cumulus building in the clean, blue skies of Colorado.

Here, we're looking back at some of the people that ventured 20-30 minutes away from the parking lot. The crowds quickly thinned out, diminished to a handful, at our level.

Now Mary and I set a pretty swift pace when we're walking the roads and trails around home. Aerobically, we're hard to keep up with. On the trails through woods, wetlands and mountains, however, we intentionally slow down for my photographs and Mary's birding with binoculars.

See all the little people down below; smaller than Mary's thumb.

But here, ankle deep in hot sand, even our moderate pace was challenging. Speaking of challenges, I noticed a group of four, vigorous young men, about 400 yards behind, and slowly gaining on us. Now in these situations my competitive spirit kicks in. I wanted to beat these guys to the summit. Only because I stopped several times for photographs, they eventually caught up to us.

These men were sophomores at the University of Maryland, out visiting an aunt on her Colorado ranch. So, they were 20 years old, and we were in our mid-60s. Among the hundreds of people wandering around below, on the flats, gazing up, only the college kids plus Mary and I had churned up these sandy ridges. So, the four "Terps" complimented our fitness and climbed on, up the ridge, departing with a  "See you at the top." You definitely will, I thought.

We did meet at the top, a mere 750 feet (230 m.) from the base, but thousands of steps to achieve our goal.

Father Nature feeling proud at the peak.

His lovely wife, Mary, trim and fit.

I took some pictures of the four Terps. They reciprocated with this picture of us:

Rich and Mary on cloud eight.

We remained at the top, absorbing our fabulous 360° view. The clouds, the sky, the wind. This panorama of a southern Colorado landscape.

The Sangre de Christo range. (Blood of Christ Mountains)

On the return hike, we made up our own route. Bushwhacking they call it, although there was not a bush in sight. Using gravity as our friend, we ran, with huge strides.
Although we had to stop three times to empty sand from our shoes, it was an exhilarating descent. A huge return of fun for the work we  invested into our climb.  
Our momentum encouraged more speed. We accelerated to the edge of uncontrollability.
Leaping and shrieking, "Whoo-hooo!" We sailed down the hot hills, over the sunny sand, catching air, catching the wind, and out of the corner of my eye, I believe I caught a fleeting glimpse of childhood.

"Singing Sand" Phenomenon (YouTube video
Photo Location:

Great Sand Dunes National Park   (Great Sand Dunes) , Colorado (Colorado)