Wading through the Sands of Time

Friday, November 15, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Pueblo, CO to Alamosa, CO

Trying to keep an open mind, but harboring a bit of skepticism after our experience at Florissant yesterday, we left Pueblo this morning and set our GPS for Great Sand Dunes National Park near the town of Alamosa.  High winds buffeted the car as we drove down I-25 for our last time on this trip (maybe).  Torn from their roots by the wind, tumbleweeds were swept from the roadside into the traffic lanes.  Once we turned west on US-160 at Walsenburg, the wind picked up its pace, and at times the highway seemed a stage for a tumbleweed ballet.

Future tumbleweeds in the foreground
When we reached the park around 11:00, we discovered that there really are dunes, and they really are large.  In fact, these are the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising as high as 750 feet from the floor of the San Luis Valley.  They were formed when sand from the Rio Grande and its tributaries was blown into this valley and couldn't make it over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  Exhausted, the wind dropped the sand here and blew it into dunes.  This process continues, and the dunes are still growing.  In another 440,000 years (their estimated age), they may double in size.

Two visitors climb the dunes
Though the sand is tan in color, different sun angles can make it appear a range of colors, from dark brown to gray to almost snow white.  When we took a walk out into the dunes, the wind was blowing steadily at about 18 miles an hour with gusts to 25.  Slogging through soft sand while being pelted by sand and pummeled by wind at an elevation of 8,200 feet in 45° weather did not inspire us to climb to the top of the dunes.  Maybe 30 years ago but not today.

We did enjoy our visit to this park and had our confidence in the National Park Service somewhat restored.  After spending tonight in Alamosa, we're planning to drive northwest to Montrose tomorrow, weather permitting, and check out the Black Canyon National Park.