Piles of sand.

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.

sand dune hikers

dunes better

dunes against clouds

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.

footprints up the dunes

dunes with mountains

Windblown sand makes patterns.
Windblown sand makes patterns.
this does not seem real
This does not even seem real.

panorama

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.

rier

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.

how do flowers grow

mountains

one flower

dune grass

dune river

I am so glad I stopped. This was one of the coolest and most surreal things I’ve ever seen.

 

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