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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
Fifty square miles of silky shifting sands huddled against the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is around 170 miles southeast of Colorado Springs. Dunes have arisen in this surprising location thanks to millions of years of westerly winds blowing fine glacial sands from the San Juan mountains east to be trapped beside the Sangre de Cristos.
Looking for a way through the mountains, the prevailing winds were channeled towards the lower part of the range - near the Music, Medano and Mosca passes - where winds have been buffeted against the mountains, dropping their load at the base and forming the dunes. Winds blow here every day, so whilst footprints are not left for long, the dampness of the sand a foot below the surface means that the general shape of the dunes has remained unchanged for centuries.
An eerie, yet beautiful place, the dunes harbor a number of small creatures, including the giant sand-treader camel cricket and the small kangaroo rat. Most visitors go little further than Medano Creek, but the climb up the dunes themselves, though incredibly tiring, is not to be missed. A walk along sandy trails and a night spent out at one of the back country campsites are also worthwhile.
The visitor center is three miles beyond the park entrance. Behind the center there is the Mosca picnic area - the main gateway for exploring the dunes. The most unforgettable way to stay at the dunes is to pitch on the dune mass itself.