Great Sand Dunes National Park is situated in Alamosa and Saguache
counties, Colorado in United States. Great Sand Dunes National Park
covers an area of 84,670 acres (342.6 km2) that were left from sand
and salt deposits. Originally designated Great Sand Dunes National
Monument, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve was created
by an act of the United States Congress on September 13, 2004.
Great Sand Dunes National Park contains the
highest sand dunes in North America that rise to a maximum height of
230 meters from the floor of the San Luis Valley, at the western
base of the Sierra de la Sangre de Cristo. This group of dunes
covers about 77 km² and according to the researchers began to form
less than 440,000 years ago.
The dunes are created from the
sand and sediment deposits of the Rio Grande and its tributaries
that flow through the San Luis Valley. With the passing of the
years, winds from the west collect the sand particles from the lands
flooded by the river. When the wind loses its strength before
crossing the Sierra de la Sangre de Cristo, it deposits the sand at
the eastern end of the valley. This process continues and the dunes
grow slowly as the wind molds them again each day.
several streams that flow through the perimeter of the dunes. These
streams erode the edge of the dune field and carry the sand
downstream until the water seeps into the earth, disappears and
deposits the sand on the surface. The wind lifts the sand deposits
and blows them again over the field of dunes. Just dig a few inches
even at the top of the dunes to discover wet sand. Part of the
motivation to convert the national monument into a Great Sand Dunes
National Park was to increase protection over water, desired both by
the cities of Colorado and by the farmers in the area.
very easy to experience the process of dune formation. It is a very
windy region, as can be seen by the walkers who visit it since many
days are riddled by sand and even by small stones when they walk on
the dunes. These materials are transported by the wind kilometers
away and although the dunes do not change place or size very often,
there are parabolic dunes that migrate through the main dune field.
Sometimes they join this and other times they are covered by grass
and vegetation and stay where they are.
The dunes are
relatively stable but their morphology changes slightly with the
passing of the seasons because their shape is affected with
intensity by the direction of the wind. The wind normally goes from
the South-West to the North-East but at the end of summer the wind
turns around creating remontary dunes. This process is part of the
reasons that make the dunes so high.
There are areas of black
sand in the dunes that are actually deposits of magnetite, a black
and crystalline iron oxide.
Fees and permits
The entry fee is $20 for each non-commercial
vehicle, which includes all occupants. A motorcycle and riders entry
fee is $15 total. Oversized vehicles with 15 or more passengers are
charged at $10 per person for each person age 16 or older. All fees
are for 7-day passes, which allow unlimited re-entry for the week.
The Great Sand Dunes Annual Pass also allows free access to the park
for one year and costs $40.
There are several passes for
groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on
foot or on bike. These passes provide free entry at national parks
and national wildlife refuges, and also cover standard amenity fees
at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the
Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. These passes
are valid at all national parks including Great Sand Dunes National
The $80 Annual Pass (valid for twelve months from date
of issue) can be purchased by anyone. Military personnel can obtain
a free annual pass in person at a federal recreation site by showing
a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID. U.S. citizens or
permanent residents age 62 or over can obtain a Senior Pass (valid
for the life of the holder) in person at a federal recreation site
for $80, or through the mail for $90; applicants must provide
documentation of citizenship and age. This pass also provides a
fifty percent discount on some park amenities. Seniors can also
obtain a $20 annual pass. U.S. citizens or permanent residents
with permanent disabilities can obtain an Access Pass (valid for the
life of the holder) in person at a federal recreation site at no
charge, or through the mail for $10; applicants must provide
documentation of citizenship and permanent disability. This pass
also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
Individuals who have volunteered 250 or more hours with federal
agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program can
receive a free Volunteer Pass. 4th graders can receive an Annual
4th Grade Pass that allows free entry for the duration of the 4th
grade school year (September-August) to the bearer and any
accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle.
Registration at the Every Kid in a Park website is required. In
2018 the National Park Service will offer four days on which entry
is free for all national parks: January 15 (Martin Luther King Jr.
Day), April 21 (1st Day of NPS Week), September 22 (National Public
Lands Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day weekend).