Day 5: August 5, 2015
Our visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve started out on the right foot.
With Pronghorn! On the long country road on our way into the park, we saw a herd of Pronghorn! I have been thwarted in my many attempts to get photos of Pronghorn over the last couple of years – unfortunately they are tough to photograph at 60 mph from a car. But this time, we were able to pull over and see them from a standstill! They weren’t super-close, but they were watching us curiously while I took photos with my zoom.
We proceeded on to the Visitor’s Center to fill our water bottles and use the restroom, but didn’t look at the exhibits at that point because we wanted to get out hiking before it got too hot.
Jon and I decided to hike up Star Dune, which is the second-tallest dune in the park; Star Dune is 699 feet tall and the hike is about 3 miles round trip. We left at about 10:40 am – hiking though the flat section of the dune field, across Medano Creek, which was about an inch deep and meandered in a wide path across the sand. Jon’s parents joined us for this portion of the hike and some pictures, before breaking off and doing their own thing once it got more strenuous.
We began hiking up the dune, and it quickly turned tough in the soft sand. It was definitely a challenging hike; we had to stop multiple times and rest while climbing the steep dunes! I’ll be honest; I was driving the rest breaks much more frequently than Jon. On the hike we saw several patches of prairie sunflowers growing in the sand – it was interesting to see them growing without any soil!
Once we reached the top of the dune, we posed for photos and sat in the sand, resting and admiring the view.
After resting, we made our way back down the dune. The hiking was way easier going down! We didn’t stick to the “trail” on the way down, instead sinking into the deep sand on the sides of the dunes. It was like being a little kid again! I understood why rangers tell you to wear closed shoes in the summer; when the sand hit my leg it was getting quite warm, and it wasn’t a super-hot day.
We checked out the Visitor’s Center and I got my passport stamp and postcards – plus I got a cute bumper sticker proclaiming that I hiked Star Dune! 699 feet! Jon just rolled his eyes. We had a picnic lunch that day near the Visitor’ Center, at a nice picnic area with some shade. We did encounter a few little biting flies, and a relatively well-behaved church group of teenagers.
We tried to hike a little bit near Medano Creek, but at that point it was getting pretty hot and there were lots of little gnats flitting around, so we decided to quit while we were ahead.
And with that, it was time to say goodbye to Great Sand Dunes National Park…