Great Sand Dunes National Park
Of the many fascinating places we’ve seen in our 10 days on the road, none compare to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. Rather than choosing the park by recommendation, we chose it based on its proximity between Santa Fe and Denver, and after a lengthy Q&A on dune camping with the park ranger, we obtained our free backcountry permit (thanks National Park week!) and departed the visitors center on foot for a night under the stars.
We were instructed by the ranger to hike the 1.2 miles over High Peak, and any part of the 30 square-mile dunefield beyond was ours for the night (we obtained the only backcountry permit written that day). Having swapped our water purifier for water bottles, the hike to High Peak was harder than I expected. But the payoff was unforgettable beauty, and after a sunset photo shoot, we tumbled down the other side and set up camp.
The wind that blew that night was from the lungs of Hercules. Sand swirled and covered everything inside and outside the tent.
The next morning, after dusting off some Starbucks instant coffee and a couple of mama Swanson’s delicious apricot and coconut granola bars, we left camp in pursuit of the tallest sand dune in North America. Star peak was only one map mile away, but given the high altitude, the difficulty of sand hiking and the zigzag route necessary to reach the top, it was a mile that having traveled it automatically gifted us a free pass to consume a mountain of something cheesy that night in Denver, which we did with gusto.
It’s worth emphasizing just how truly amazing this park is. I’ve been lucky enough to experience many great outdoor adventures in my 29 years, but this place is something special. You should go some day.