Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

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Colorado. Rocky Mountains. Forests. Farms. Water. The tallest sand dunes in North America. What? No kidding! Sprawling over 330 square miles, sand and sediment from the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountain ranges blew and washed into what was once a huge lake. As the lake filled in, the gusty, year round wind piled the sand into dunes and continues to feed and shift the dunes today. The park contains nearly half the Dunes, while most of the rest are part of  a National Preserve in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.


Another anomaly of the park is that it contains 7 life zones and the many animals and plants that inhabit them. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can be found in Alpine Tundra; black bear roam Subalpine Forests; bobcats prowl among the pinon and juniper of Montane Forests; brightly colored tiger beetles liven up the Dunefields; elk wander the Grasslands; sandhill cranes patrol the Plains; finally, there are Streams and Wetlands, where beaver can sometimes be found. So this is Colorado after all.


I find the Dunes to be particularly striking during Lent. The stark barrenness of the dunefield summoned us into its emptiness. The mysterious undulations teased us into pursuing their secrets. Were there hidden spaces, or just endless drifts? Daddy couldn’t resist removing his shoes to sink his feet into the soft, silky sand. I left my boots on. The wind was icy and the dunes were not reflecting the sun’s warmth on this day.


As Yak crested a steep mound, the merciless wind stole his cowboy hat and deposited it playfully on the even steeper backside. Despite my dislike of vertical slopes, I judged that even if I rolled down to the bottom, the worst I would get would be sand in my hair, so I went after the headpiece. Halfway there I was creeping on all fours. Just as I was within reach of my goal, daddy clambered over the ridge and stopped right in front of the topper, laughing at me. Refusing to admit defeat, I pounced upon the hat and we all sat down on the backside of the dune, out of the sandstorm, for a much needed rest and a good laugh.


The wind was in our faces on the way back to the truck. I held securely to Yak’s hat, not wishing to repeat my recent heroics. Any trace of our hike in was already blown away. The lenten journey is all here in the dunes. The emptying of myself. The overcoming of fear to serve another. Laughing at my shortcomings. Struggling uphill in the sand one way and against the wind the other. Reaching the truck never felt so good. Closing the door on the tempest. Turning on the heater. Making hot chocolate with the thermos of hot water I brought. The journey is difficult, we screw up along the way. The destination is worth it.

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