Favorite Places: Great Sand Dunes National Park

We here at Camp Granola cover some ground but don’t necessarily get around to sharing all of that with you. Time constraints you know. Plus, many of the great places we’ve been were pre-Val in Real Life. So in an effort to at least share the high points of the places we’ve been…and to quit being a blogging delinquent, I’m going to start posting a short overview of some adventure past and why it’s so awesome that you should go.

Granola Bliss circa 2009

Pure bliss…

This first installment is one of my favorite places in the world, Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. This is a must-visit if you’re even close to the area. For those of you who have visited, you understand the lure of this magical place. For those of you who’ve never heard of it, you are missing out.

Home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, Great Sand Dunes is a bizarre, marvelous place that brings out my inner-geology geek. Nestled into the western edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Alamosa, Colorado, the dunes are held captive by the mountains and framed by the seasonally-flowing Medano Creek. There are other places where dunes meet peaks but pay attention to the difference Medano Creek makes. Discover the joy of surge flow as you play in the sand while surrounded by grasslands and 13,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Granola bliss I say.

There's another world to discover in the remarkable sand grains of the dunes. I'll spare you the lecture about what it means and the geologic history it represents but this falls in the 'wow' category. More simply, it's just the prettiest sand I've ever seen...and I've looked at a lot of sand.

Other groovy activities…

There’s lots to see and do there. Absolutely bring a sled, official or improvised, for sliding down the dunes. If you’re timing is right and Medano Creek is flowing, be prepared to treat your mountain trip like a beach trip. Also consider hiking, birding, camping, and attending ranger programs. I highly recommend honing your photography skills if that’s your thing. There are lots of challenges and inspiration to be had here.

On a personal note…

When most people think “geologist” they think rock hound. Unfortunately that’s like thinking all doctors are neurologists or all football players are quarterbacks. In my case, while I do enjoy me some rocks, I get truly misty for sand and water, particularly creek and river water and how they move the sand and make lovely formations. So when you get to the Dunes, check out the sand and all the dark-colored heavy minerals in it. Get down close and take in the remarkable variety of sand grains. If you’re used to uniform beach sand, this is sure to surprise and delight you.

Planning your visit…

As usual, information is best straight from the horse’s mouth so visit NPS’s Great Sand Dunes page for details on how to plan your visit…but definitely get yourself to the Dunes.

And with that, here’s a few more shots of Camp Granola’s last visit to the dunes in 2009.

Sinuous and alluring, there's no end to the wonders of the dunes.
A 9-year-old Fred getting his Vitamin N in the sand.
George, at a tender 6 years, never stopped smiling. His quote for the day: "I'm having more fun than you expected me to." And the doozie? He said it was more fun than Gramma's house. Folks, you have no idea what a statement that is.
There's really no way in a picture to give you a sense of scale here but that speck near the bottom is George. And how about those sexy bands of heavy minerals at the top? Groovy!

And now for your moment of green…

A gem in the crown of America's national parks.


  1. We went to Great Sand Dunes NP last summer and loved it! The campsite is excellent, and has a great view of the dunes and mountains. We went in July, so we hiked up early in the morning before the sand got too hot.

    Love your pictures! Looks like you had a great time. I agree that it is a must visit – perfect for kids.

    1. Yeah, I didn’t even get to the campground for this post. Amazing scenery to wake up to. Looking forward to getting back there next month. And I was remiss in pointing out how hot the sand can get in the summer…blistering!

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