Saturday, October 13, 2012

Great Sand Dunes!

We spend a couple of days at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve near Alamosa in the south of Colorado.  Here, sand dunes nestle beneath the Sangre de Cristo (Spanish for Blood of Christ) mountains.  The highest dune, Star Dune, reaches 750 feet above the valley floor; the highest in North America.  One of the mountain peaks, Blanca Peak, reaches 14,345 (above sea level) with several other peaks surrounding her being "14ers" as well.
The dunes in early morning at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains
The sand dunes are beautiful.  The dune field stretches over 30 square miles.  The sand has been deposited here by winds which often gust through this San Luis Valley which lies between the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the east and the San Juan mountain range in the west.  The mountains actually surround the entire valley in all directions.  Because predominant winds are from west to east, the sand from the valley gets pushed up against the tall Sangre de Cristo mountains, falling at their feet.  The morning and late afternoon sunlight give the dunes their best poses.

Many people are climbing the dunes, and we can see several hearty folk at the top of Star Dune.  Now you may think, "Big deal - anyone can climb a 750-foot sand dune."  Go ahead, try it!  Our Niagara escarpment at home is perhaps 200 feet (a Brad guess), so the tallest dune is almost 4 - FOUR - times that.  And when you walk uphill in sand, your foot slips back half a step, so you need to take twice as many steps as you would if you are climbing on a hard surface.  We do not attempt it.  Two years ago, we climbed several hundred feet up the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve in California, but we are not feeling as energetic this trip, probably because of the Altitude Sickness.  Yeah, that's it!
Star Dune (the tallest at 750') - can you see the people?  They're dots!
During the spring and summer, two creeks flow around the dunes on each side.  Visitors to the park swim in the creek at the foot of the dunes, although we are told the water is cold as it's snow melt from the mountains.  The creeks are dry now, so Brad can't have his swim.  These creeks are part of a recycling program, taking the sand from the dunes and redepositing it back in the valley, where the wind will push it back up to the dunes again.
Brad standing in the creek at the foot of a dune, with a tumbleweed
For our daily picnic lunch, we travel about a mile and a half down a 4-wheel drive dirt road to Castle Creek Picnic Area.  4-Wheel drive is required because the sand is very soft in spots on the road.  It's not nearly as bumpy or as long as our trip out to Rattlesnake Canyon Arches.  Here, the parking lot and picnic tables are right at the foot of the dunes, surrounded by cottonwood trees (turning golden brown) and other brush.  This is better than near the Visitors Center where you have to walk about 1/2 a mile across the dry creek bed in order to get to the dunes.  We walk up the creek a bit, and there is water in it up stream from the picnic area.  Brad needs his playtime every day, so he plays on the dunes.
Brad playing in the dunes

Brad and me at the "Sand Pit"
Speaking about playtime, Grady has a new experience.  We are camped on BLM land about 12 miles south of the national park.  It is a forestry service road that goes up into the mountains, but just off the highway on this road is a large pull-off area where we park the trailer.  It is several hundred feet from the highway, and very sandy, although the sand is very dirty.  I get brave and let Grady out of the trailer.  He will not wear a leash.  I have tried to train him, but he wiggles out of every harness or collar I buy for him.  Does anyone need a cat harness?  I have several.  At home, he is used to going outside where he stays on our lawn.  He never strays off the property, and we never let him out alone - either Brad is with him or I am.  And he knows to go back to the front door when we clap our hands and say, "Grady, in."  Well, he's the same here.  At first, he is a bit nervous being outside the trailer, but we leave the door open and let him come out on his own.  I get one of his toys that requires a lot of room - "Da Bird" - and we play.  It's fake feathers on a long string and a stick, so I can fly it around and he chases it.  He's not too sure about this dirty sand which billows up in his face when he runs and then comes to a quick stop or turn.  But after a while, he loves being outside and running around.  Perhaps we have created a monster and now he'll cry to go out all the time.
Grady playing in the sand at our campsite - what a view!
At the Visitors Center, I learn that I am suffering from Altitude Sickness and have been since we got to Yellowstone in Wyoming.  The elevation (always above 6,000 feet up to 8,500 so far) is giving me a migraine every 2 or 3 days.  Symptoms of the sickness include headaches, nausea and shortness of breath.  I have all three symptoms although my headaches become migraines because I'm very susceptible to low pressure and the higher the altitude, the lower the pressure.  Thank God it's sunny every day!  Brad is also feeling the effects of the altitude, having the occasional headache and shortness of breath.  Symptoms are supposed to subside within a few days, but for us have been continuing for over 4 weeks.  I think we need to get to a lower elevation soon!

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