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Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve-Winter Walk

Updated: Mar 28

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve-Winter Walk

When most think about sand dunes, they generally don’t think about snow, right? Well, it’s time to change that thinking. Thanks to its location, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve affords the unique opportunity to enjoy sand and snow in one outing. This very cold morning offered up quite the view of Mt. Blanca, and its neighbors, on the drive in to the park gate.

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range

Mt. Blanca

We parked at the visitor’s center and started our no-destination-in-mind meander. Taking a random trail, of which you’ll find there will be many from the parking lot, and walked toward the snowed over Medano Creek.

Frozen Medano Creek

Medano Creek Looking East

Medano Creek Looking West

After crossing the stream bed the dunes build and gaining even a little altitude significantly changes your view.

Great Sand Dunes View

Don’t forget to bring your toboggans, skis, snowboards, and snowshoes. The snowshoes are great for both snow and sand.

Tubing, Sledding, and Skiing on The Great Sand Dunes

Tobaggan/Ski Run

One of my favorite weather phenomena is hoarfrost. Hoarfrost occurs when ice crystals, below a snow surface, turn to gas and rise through porous snow. When the gas breaks the surface, it refreezes forming hoarfrost. Hoarfrost is also formed when clouds move through an area and the moisture forms ice crystals on trees, plants, etc. If you’ve ever woken up in the morning and found what appears to be delicate wispy snow atop the snow that was on the ground the night before, but no new snow rolled through during the evening hours, you’re likely looking at hoarfrost. Some of the columns we saw were as tall as 10 inches.

The following photo shows what happens when water below the surface of the sand turns to gas, then recrystallizes before making to the surface, causing the sand to heave upward creating humps like this one. These areas can be anywhere from a few feet long to a couple hundred feet.

Hoarfrost Upheaval

What kind of critter do you think made these tracks?

This is the kind of visit that allows you to decide how long and how difficult your meander is going to be. Pretty ding dang simple, yeah? While you’re visiting, if you have the time, check out Mosca Pass Trail. The trailhead is right across the street from the visitor’s center.

Wanna go? From Colorado Springs, drive south on I-25 to HWY 160 (Walsenburg exit). Head west on HWY 160, through Walsenburg and over La Veta Pass. After passing through the town of Blanca, keep an eye out for HWY 150 and the sign to turn right for The Dunes. The sign is not as prominent as you might think, so keep a sharp eye. Count on a drive that lasts about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

If you want to take Fido, please keep in mind this is a national park and our national parks are not Fido friendly. Additionally, if you take Fido during warmer months it is likely you doggy paws could be badly burned.

As always, if you pack it in, pack it out! Happy Trekking!

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