Tallest Sand Dunes in North America

Among all the things I like about the United States, their national parks is my favourite one. I always enjoy visiting them no matter the s...

Among all the things I like about the United States, their national parks is my favourite one. I always enjoy visiting them no matter the season and the weather. Since the first national park was created in 1872, the goal has always been to provide recreational opportunities with the conservation coming after. As a result, most of the America's national parks are very accessible that often draws big crowds, especially at those parks near major highways and cities. It obviously seems appealing to me that tourism brings more profit to some areas than traditional mining of natural resources, but I believe there should be a better way to control crowds since most visitors to the national parks come see the nature, not other people. So I was really glad that Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, that I visited this past December, was still a hidden gem with fewer visitors come comparing to other "big boys" in the Southwest such as Grand Canyon, Zion and Arches.

The good things about the national parks in the Southwest like Grand Sand Dunes is that they change very little from season to season in terms of appearance.
With generally low precipitation and desert-like conditions year around, those parks are as beautiful in the winter as they are in the summer.
The biggest draw of the park, as the name suggests, is the sand dunes. In fact, those dunes are the tallest ones in North America. They can go as high as 750 ft / 229 m. That's a lot!
Hiking a dune is more strenuous than hiking a mountain as your feet often slip and bury into the sand slowing you down.
Some people even tried sandboarding and sand sledding. Not sure if that worked, certainly not for us. 
Sand is nothing else but sediments washed from nearby mountains into a valley that once was covered with water.
Over time, as the lake dried out, all exposed sand has been propped up against the wall of Sangre de Cristo Mountains by prevailing southwesterly winds. Occasional northeasterly storms piled the sand back on it layer after layer forming dunes.
Old dunes are now anchored with plants, so it's difficult to recognize them.
In order to access dunes you'll need to cross the Medano Creek. It's seasonal and does not sound like a big deal, but unless you have boots, you might get your feet wet which is somewhat unpleasant in the winter. 
The creek brings life to otherwise harsh natural conditions.
You're guaranteed to enjoy the big blue sky year around which turns completely dark during the night allowing you to experience the best views of the Milky Way and countless stars and constellations. 
And if you're extra lucky, not only can you enjoy a beautiful sunset (or a sunrise if you could kick yourself out of a comfy bed), but also some unique natural phenomena such as these lenticular clouds. I've never seen anything like that before.
You can see how the colours are changing over time as the sun is setting lower and lower.
Wikipedia explains a formation of lenticular clouds: "When moist, stable air flows over a larger eddie, like those caused by mountains, a series of large-scale standing waves form on the leeward side of the mountain. If the temperature at the crest of the wave drops below the local dew point, moisture in the air may condense to form lenticular clouds."
Higher elevation brings different weather which results in completely distinct flora and fauna comparing to the valley floor.
Aspen forest - iconic to Colorado - looks lifeless in the winter.
Zapata Falls ('zapata' is a shoe in Spanish) cuts through the rocks forming a canyon. 
With sub-zero temperatures, it freezes in the winter transforming into huge icicles.

When to go
Park is open year around, 24/7. Even in the summer, it does not get too hot thanks to the park's elevation.

To access the main park area, including the Dunes Parking Lot, Visitor Center, and Pinyon Flats Campground, take US 160 to CO 150 from the south, or CO 17 to Lane 6 to CO 150 from the west. The national park is at the north end of CO 150.

Additional Information
For additional information visit Great Sand Dunes National Park's official website.

My other posts about the trip to Colorado, New Mexico and Utah:

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