Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Great Sand Dunes - A Surreal Landscape

The Great Sand Dunes

Earlier this summer, curiosity propelled us to go investigate The Great Sand Dunes National Park. On the way there, I was struck by the desolation of the high desert region known as the San Luis Valley. The dunes first appear as a small, pink band sprawling out humbly beneath the jagged, blue peaks of the impressive Crestone Needles. Not until you arrive at Medano Creek do the tallest sand dunes in North America begin to flex their muscle. It's a surreal landscape and the sheer scale of the dunes is breathtaking.

It took more than 400,000 years for nature to sculpt this masterpiece. Water, wind and sand are the ingredients of a process that continues to this day. Sand from the river flood plain are picked up by strong, westerly winds. The tiny particles are deposited in a pile against the foothills. Zebulon Pike is credited with the first written account of the dunes. In 1807 he wrote, "Their appearance was exactly that of the sea in a storm, except as to color, not the least sign of vegetation existing thereon."

It's remarkable inside the dunes. With no designated trails, you are encouraged to explore freely. The endless waves of sand are steep and hot. It's also very quiet but the solitude is a peaceful escape from the chaos of day-to-day life in the city. A unique feature of the park is Medano Creek, a flood plain that forms the eastern boundary of the sand dunes. The wide, shallow creek is a great place to cool off and splash around. I would definitely recommend making the drive across Southern Colorado to experience one of the Rocky Mountain's most fascinating environments.

The San Luis Valley

The impressive Crestone Needles

Set against blue peaks, the dunes appear pink.

It's remarkable inside the dunes

The dunes are hot and steep

The solitude is a peaceful escape

Medano Creek is a great place to cool off

A San Luis Valley, blood-red sunset

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us, Dan. I think I've been there a long time ago, but it was good to be reminded of the beauty in that part of the country. I hope there will be new paintings based on this trip. I'll be watching for them.

    Landscapes that are ever-changing are fascinating to watch. Thanks again!

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  2. We had never been there before so we really enjoyed the area. There is a lot of history in that part of Colorado. We made some side trips out to the Colorado Gator Farm which is very cool and down to Fort Garland and over to Alamosa. The contrast between the different environments is beautiful and I got some good photos. I have a drawing on the board that is taking forever to finish.

    Thanks, for your interest.

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  3. We have not traveled much past the east coast but have several places on our must visit list. Until I read your blog, I never knew about this place. Your photos are stunning. We will have to add this as another place to visit once we venture more west!

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    1. Judi,

      Thanks for looking at this post. The Great Sand Dunes is a very interesting place. It's located in kind of a remote part of Colorado. The nearest city is Alamosa, about 35 miles away. The landscape is very unique with the dunes and the giant, jagged Sangre de Christo mountains. Lots of history in the area, I would definitely recommend visiting the place if you ever have the chance.

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