Driving around the dramatic Sangre de Cristo mountains and finding a collection of sand dunes in their shadow kind of messes with the mind. The area is arid and isolated for the most part, with expansive open spaces, some ranging cattle, and shrubs dotting the landscape, with the looming jagged mountains alongside. Such beauty!

After abandoning an idea to camp at a well known waterfall trailhead (too crowded and rocky road questionable for the van), we scored a sweet free campsite just across from the National Park & Preserve. We set up camp, made dinner while zoom chatting with friends, and had to escape into the van to eat as a lightning storm rolled through the area but the rain missed us. The sunset and views were pretty spectacular, particularly for a free site- my best understanding is that this used to be a state park paid campsite but something went wrong with the water line so they opened it up for free without water for whoever came prepared.

The next day we entered the park, which was partially re-opened with most trails and day use areas open but the visitor’s center and some other areas remaining closed. Our first stop was the namesake dunes. I, no surprise, was exhausted after walking up halfway, but we made it a few crests up and got a view over the sand and out over the hills. We hadn’t researched much and missed the fact that you can rent sand boards to slide down the dunes, but some very nice people offered to let us have a go on theirs. I’d gone sand boarding before in Peru last year and didn’t particularly want to walk back up if I slid down, but Kevin gave it a try and reported a fun time. His first run (snowboard style rather than sitting down) was slow, and the second ended in a minor fall and small sand burn, but no big prob. I, on the other hand, managed to get stung by a bee at the top of the dune. Of course.

The stream between the road and the dunes was running full thanks to snowmelt and the cool water felt really great on our feet after trekking around that hot sand under the blazing sun, and wiggling toes down into the cold mud in the running water was a next level treat. Many families with smaller kids were using the stream like a beach day and some even came prepared with shade tents and beach chairs. Very smart!

After the dunes we hit up a trail up the rocky hillside to the Mosca Pass., which is technically in the Great Sand Dunes Preserve rather than the National Park but it’s all adjacent by the looks of things. I was- surprise surprise- tired after the first 10 minutes of uphill in the full sun and dry air, but as usual I was glad I kept going once we got the shade of the trees and passed pretty cacti and rock formations along the way. The actual pass itself was underwhelming, but there were some great views of the sand dunes peaking out between the trees and cliffs on the way up. Quite the full day of fun!

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