I had wanted to come to this park for so long that by the time I visited it, it was almost like a dream.
The first time I sat down with plans to visit the Great Sand Dunes NP, it was last June. I had been idly messing around in google maps, enlarging and then zooming into areas of interest around Texas, Colorado, Arkansas and Oklahoma and had spotted an area on the way to the San Juan Mountains that I hadn’t quite looked at before and upon closer inspection, led me to the point where I was ready to make the 14 hour drive from home out there by myself as soon as possible. This idea ended up being shelved and instead I headed to Big Bend NP (which to be honest, wasn’t the best idea either as it was the beginning of summer and I ended up almost dying out by an abandoned mine), though I still kept the idea tucked into my heart that I would make it out to see the dunes one day.
Fast forward more than half a year and another roadtrip later, and we finally found ourselves looking up up up at the gently swirling dunes. I’ve seen many a beautiful place, been privy to some spectacular scenery and have been to more places that took my breath away than I probably deserve but…
I know I say this a lot and perhaps after a certain point it almost becomes a given, but this park was well and truly something special, something magnificent that I can’t quite put into words. Maybe it’s because of the utterly unexpected nature of the environment- you’re walking past green bushes and across a cold stream to get to the dunes and then once there, you’re looking past them towards the tall snow capped mountains in the near distance, the smaller green mountains on the other side of the view no less lovely. Or maybe it’s because I rarely visit parks with any preconceived notions or expectations (the one exception being Arches and perhaps thats why I didn’t enjoy my visit there half as much ) and with this one especially, what I got was more than I could have dreamed up in the first place.
The few people that remained by the time we made it out into the dunes were friendly but kept their distance, everyone very much in their own space, in their own world. It can be hard to see exactly how large the area is when you’re making your way in from the park entrance but when you’re out there, it’s like you’ve stepped into a whole other world. One where the sound of sand shifting and moving is a constant companion, where the wind whips and whistles fiercely (but never too harshly) and where each step is just a little more difficult than the last.
It was fun- just so incredibly fun, the kind you forget to have when you pass from childhood- to wander around the dunes without any real aim, crouching low to watch the ripples in the sand, and looking back to where you came from to watch your heavy footsteps slowly disappearing into nothing. Time here passes strangely, one minute your heading towards the next rise of sand and the next you still haven’t quite made to where you were aiming for and the suns gotten much lower in the sky. You look around and people that you had seen at the tops of the dunes, their sunglasses glinting in the light and cameras covered in plastic bags, they’ve disappeared down the other side and you wonder what they’re going to find over there. You wonder if you should try and make it over as well, but then your legs are growing tired from constantly sinking and rising, sinking and rising and so you head back towards the shores of the cold creek that marks the border back to normal.
Visiting this park it’s an experience not to be missed, but above all, you really should try and stay for the sunset like we decided to. If you think things feel surreal now, wait till the sun sets.