Scenic USA - Colorado
Great Sand Dunes
|Photo by Paul Winters
Paul's High Country Aerie
Dune Rider inset photos - courtesy of the NPS
A combination of prevailing winds, a large supply of sand and a tall mountain range has created the tallest sand dunes in North America. Protected as a national monument since 1932, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has gathered together some more additions to the National Parks Service inventory. Set in motion during the Clinton Administration, the federal government purchased 97,000 acres of the Baca Ranch, tripling the size of the new national park. The additional parkland holds the 14,000 foot Kit Carson and Challenger Point mountain peaks, part of the trap that contains Colorado's dramatic sand dunes.
Scientists are unable to pinpoint a beginning date for these great dunes, but guesses suggest that sand from the Rio Grande River Valley has been adding up for thousands of years. The tallest peak, Star Dune, tops out at 750 feet above the valley floor.
Although the park is noted for its immense dunes and mountain range backdrop, the land covers a vast range of habitats. Alpine tundra, grasslands, wetlands and forests of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains occupy unique ecosystems with their own diverse wildlife and plant species. Whether your forte is hiking, dune sliding, building sandcastles or wading in the Medano Creek, this national park is definitely worth the visit.
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