Friday, May 16, 2008

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

Great Sand Dunes National Monument is one of south central Colorado's most intriguing geological features. The area boasts North America's tallest natural sand dunes that rise over 750'. They are situated in the San Luis Valley at the base of snow capped peaks, which soar high into the clear blue Colorado sky.
Melting snow fields from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains feed the streams that flow through the main area of 30 square miles of dune fields. It is a land of dramatic contrasts and unspoiled natural beauty.

Photo enthusiasts could spend days capturing the sunsets that melt into the undulating dunes or photographing the endless shapes sculpted by the wind and shifting shadows cast by clouds moving overhead. Other activities in the area include hiking, horseback riding, sand boarding and four-wheeling over Medano Pass. If outdoor activity and adventure are what you are looking for, you will not be disappointed.

There are several camping options in this area including the Pinyon Flats Campground that is run by the National Park Service. This campground can accommodate smaller RVs, but there are no water, sewer, or electrical hookups, and maneuvering around some of the tight corners can be a challenge. Full hook ups can be found near the park entrance at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis, a private resort/camping facility. The San Luis Lakes State Park is 15 miles from the Dunes and offers electrical hookups and a dump station on site. We opted to stay a little further away at a KOA campground in Alamosa. This was a nice, clean facility with all the amenities that KOA campgrounds typically offer. I wouldn't hesitate to go back there, but after touring the other campgrounds, we plan to stay at the San Luis Lakes State Park if we return. Note - there is very little natural shade in this high desert area, and these campgrounds vary widely in this respect. Nights can be cool and the days extremely warm. Be sure to plan for possible weather extremes.

The San Luis Valley is a very eclectic area that not only features the stunning and beautiful Great Sand Dunes National Monument but also a U.F.O. watch tower, and an alligator farm. Our time was limited so we had to skip the U.F.O. visitor's center (hope to see it on a return trip), but we did make it to the 'gator farm'. We were so glad we made this worthwhile detour.

The 'farm' is filled with exotic animals like ostriches, pythons, emus, rattle snakes, turtles, and multitudes of alligators. This is a must see attraction, but it is not for the squeamish - be sure to take your camera. Photo opportunities abound.