Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park

You will find the tallest sand dunes in North America in Colorado in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Sand too heavy to rise with the wind is blown northeastward across the flat desert floor of the San Luis Valley til it comes to the Sangre de Cristo Range, where sand deposits have piled up for around 15,000 years.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve covers 130 square miles, including the 39 square miles of sand dunes, plus land surrounding the dunes. Great Sand Dunes National Park was originally designated a National Monument. President Bill Clinton signed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, with the ultimate goal of National Park status achieved by act of Congress on September 13, 2004.

A National Park visitor center has exhibits explaining the natural and human history of the Great Sand Dunes area. There are self-guided nature trails, plus camping and picnic facilities. Naturalist conducted walks and, in summer, nightly amphitheater programs are presented.

Longtime local legends have told of wagon trains lost in the dunes, along with strange creatures living in the inner reaches of the dunes.

There are several streams flowing on the edges of the dunes. Water is carried downstream, and then when the stream runs dry the wind picks the sand back up and re-deposits it on the dunes.

Of the streams in the park the most notable is Medano Creek, which borders the east side of the dunes, near the Visitor Center. Medano Creek's streambed is constantly meandering. Sand will form dams, which then break, causing mini-floods, which look like waves of water rolling across the sand.

Visitors can play in Medano Creek, as long as no motorized equipment is used. Medano Creek fun includes sand castle building, making sand sculptures, skimboarding, wading and even surfing.

Great Sand Dunes National Park's sand dunes rise as high as 750 feet.

With the help of the National Conservancy, when the National Monument was expanded to a National Park, parts of Baca Ranch were included. The size of Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 3 times bigger than when it was a National Monument. Included in the National Park is Kit Carson Mountain at 14,165 feet in elevation.

Inside Great Sand Dunes National Park you will find 6 peaks over 13,000 feet in elevation, forests of cottonwood and aspen, plus spruce and pine forests, along with grasslands and wetlands providing habitat for diverse plant species and wildlife.

According to a study made by the National Park Service, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the quietest national park in the lower 48 United States.

In addition to being quiet, this national park is also very windy. You can easily witness the dune building process as you hike on the Sand Dunes being pelted by blowing sand and small rocks.

For detailed current information about conditions at Great Sand Dunes National Park, including the water flow of Medano Creek, visit the National Park Service's official Great Sand Dunes National Park website.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 38 miles northeast of Alamosa via US 160 and SR 150. The map below will give you an idea of where the National Park is located in Colorado...

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