|My husband trying to be a tree and shade
the children as we hike to the top of
Great Sand Dunes National Park
The snow piled up in New Jersey last weekend, painting the world in a beautiful whiteness. I couldn’t help but think about how the ice crystals were like fine grains of sand in the wind as the snow drifted and swirled. As I made my prints on the freshly fallen canvas later, the ice crystals stung my face whenever the wind kicked up. Snow is ephemeral, I thought, although my neighbors wouldn’t believe it. Not yet, not while we are all still shoveling slush and ice, leftovers from Jonas, the blizzard of 2016.
I’ll admit it. I’m odd. I love trudging through the snow.
But the patterns I saw displayed in the snow from this storm on my walk with the children reminded me of another element in nature: sand. Lots and lots of loose sand, undulating and dancing in the wind.
We were camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.
My husband, in his great wisdom, announced, “Let’s hike to the top.”
The children and I stared at the enormous sand castles. I looked over at the kids. Nuts! They had smiles on their faces.
“Where’s the trail?” I asked, grabbing my canteen for another drink.
“There are no trails,” he informed me. “Nothing to worry about.” He moved forward, the children following behind.
I wiped my brow and trudged along behind. Nothing to worry about, except miles and miles of thick, loose sand, blowing, sweeping, giving way under my feet.
Closed footwear is essential. This sand can reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit according to the park rangers. It’s best to hike the dunes in the morning or evening in the summer. We hiked in the morning.
We climbed and climbed, stopping constantly, it seemed, to rest and drink; sand stinging our flesh in the breeze, sticking to our sweat-drenched, sunscreened bodies. I would always instruct my children to wait in the shade whenever we hiked the mountains. Sand dunes have no shade. My husband and I provided the shade for the children when we could, using our shadows.
Because the sands shift constantly, the trek is different each time. That’s why the trails aren’t marked. There’s nothing to mark, just shifting sand. We blazed our own trail. There’s no need to worry that you’ll get lost. It’s open 360 degrees around. You can see the world laid out before you on top of the Great Sand Dunes. It’s breathtaking for two reasons: climbing in the loose sand and gazing at the view.
I was the last to make it to the top of High Dune, the tallest peak, breathing like an old nag on her last legs. Wait! I did feel as though I was on my last legs. I felt like I was standing—barely, mind you—in the middle of the Sahara, except I could see the magnificent Rocky Mountain peaks in the near distance.
It just stuns the mind to have all these sand peaks—waves really, about 700 feet tall according to the park ranger—with a backdrop of the mighty Rocky Mountains. The Rockies are green with trees and shrubs, capped in rock and snow, decorated in lakes and streams. The fragile Sand Dunes are trapped between two huge mountain ranges: the San Juan Mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east. The Sand Dunes rest at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Of course, the Lees crew still needed to get down from these mighty sand dunes. The children had a blast racing straight down the dune sides. I, on the other hand, wished to survive this endeavor. I plodded along the edges of the dunes when I could, like that tired old nag. I took “straight downs” only when absolutely necessary. You see, I knew there was a “straight up” on the other side. Over two hours to climb to the top; we made it down to the small creek from which we started in about 40 minutes.
Recreation? Trudging through soft sand for almost three hours…uphill…both ways! Yes, we could see forever, but the trek up nearly killed me. I didn’t learn about a “dunes-accessible wheelchair” until after we made the trek to the top. This wheelchair is loaned out free of charge for those in need at the Visitor Center.
I made my husband buy ice back at camp. And while they all swam in the pool, I bathed my feet in ice. The eerie moon scape of the Great Sand Dunes invaded my dreams at night for days, at least until my feet stopped throbbing.
I hope the weather is good where you are. I always enjoy my seasons. Okay…maybe not shoveling the snow. Just hiking through it.