Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

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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Canticle of the Sun – Thoughts on Wind and Weather

“Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.”

I try to call to mind this verse of St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun when the wind is ripping shingles off my roof, or blowing sheets of dirt into my face and hair.  Meditating on it at these times helps calm my irritation as I accept that such winds are usually blowing gloomy weather away from my little homestead, or bringing nourishing rain and playful snow to it – depends on my perspective, doesn’t it?

When I am hiking in the wind, if I stand still and close my eyes, I can feel Brother Wind embracing me, Brother Air infusing my body with healing oxygen, sensuous scents of evergreen, rain or snow, and sweet musky fragrances of flowers and mosses.

There is an anecdote about John Muir, the great naturalist, who was said to go for one of his “walks” in a storm, climb a tree and swing from the branches, just to let the wind and rain buffet and refresh him.  In his own words, he felt “…free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited forest…I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was streaming past.”  (John Muir, The Mountains of California).

I too have had the hours pass swiftly as I sat upon a lofty peak (though not up in a tree!) feeling the wind wash me of my anxieties, cleanse me of my materialism and make me ready to face my human brothers and sisters again, with renewed tolerance, compassion and love.

All praise and glory to God, the awesome Creator!

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