Back in August, I went on a road trip to Colorado. On my way home, I stopped to see the largest sand dunes in North America, at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly 100% completely on my way, but it wasn’t far enough out of my way to resist a stop to check it out.
The tallest dunes are over 700 feet tall. I had the notion to hike all the way to the top of the tallest one and see if I could catch a glimpse of the other side on the dunefield, but as I walked, there were just more and more dunes to cross. I realized the enormity of this place, all these seemingly-endless piles of sand. If I had more time I probably would have gone a lot further, but I did have to get back in the car and start heading east at some point, so I just walked to one of the taller dunes in sight and reveled in the view before heading back down.
As I trudged, I couldn’t help but think of The Woman in the Dunes. It’s a good book and movie, if not quite haunting. Check it out.
I felt like I was walking in Saharan Africa, not Colorado.
I was shocked to see a shallow, wide river running by the base of the dunes. I learned that this waterway, Medano Creek, is actually crucial to both dune formation and to the diverse ecosystem which actually exists here.
Though I was originally surprised by flowers growing amidst the seemingly-barren, sandy landscape, I learned that the dunes are actually the farthest thing from barren. They actually trap a surprising amount of moisture only a few inches under the surface, and host a huge variety of plants and animals, including insect species found nowhere else on earth.
I am so glad I stopped. This was one of the coolest and most surreal things I’ve ever seen.