San Luis Valley is North America’s highest Alpine Valley and is home to many attractions, including the Great National Sand Dunes State Park. Massive sand dunes have been created over centuries and centuries of winds blowing through this dusty valley and accumulating sand at the base of the north-east surrounding mountains. These are some of the largest sand dunes in the Americas and starting at 7,500 feet above sea level, they are also some of the most challenging dunes to climb. For every step forward, you slide a few feet back. The sand is constantly moving under your feet and a river of flowing sand falls behind any progress you make up the dune. The view from the top is spectacular and well worth the climb. Not to mention, it’s amazingly fun to run full speed down the dune and have a sandy crash at the bottom. During this time of year, the dunes are usually surrounded by dry creek beds, but due to early warm weather, we were able to wade through the rising creek water, freshly melted from snow in the mountains.
In the main parking lot, we could see reflections of the sun shining on several dozen cars and the ant-trails of crowds making their way up the dunes. Watching the tourists climb up is reminiscent of movies showing the middle-eastern deserts with social castaways roaming through. Climbing the dunes definitely leaves me wishing for a camel!
We weren’t satisfied with the main parking lot -touristy areas, so we ventured to the back 4×4 roads that swirl around the base of dunes following them back to the mountains. This road, as one may assume, is primarily sand and not recommended for everyday vehicles, or drivers for that matter. After a few minutes of winding closer to the dunes, there is a pull-out area with a sign and a gate warning drivers that they are about to enter the “Point of No Return.” Now this is the part of the dunes we want to explore!
There is no camping allowed beyond this point and due to the difficult terrain, it becomes secluded quite quickly. Typically, only locals travel back here mainly due to simple local knowledge and the $400 minimum wrecker fee if your vehicle gets stuck. The Swaggerjack crew drives a 4×4 Toyota Tundra and has yet to find a road we could not handle. Along the rugged, desolate road were many trees and wild brush, as well as several families of wild deer. Being a state park, the area is also a wildlife preserve and you can tell just how comfortable the deer are here. It was early afternoon and hot for this area and time of year, so the deer were laying in the shade relaxing. They looked at us, acknowledged us, and went back to peacefully resting. I was even able to step out of the truck at one point and take a few steps for a better camera angle. One deer was caught in the midst of moistening his nose, so he seems to be sticking out his tongue. There were several babies as well, including one who was particularly camera-friendly.
Once we drove as far as the road would allow, we started to enjoy the dunes. We played in the sand, climbed them, waded in the rising creek and enjoyed the warm weather. There was one mission involved with this trip to the dunes; Oh Long Johnson. South Park had just aired its newest episode the night before and Swaggerjack was ready to make its own spinoff. Please enjoy the video below!