What Not to do at the Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a park that features massive sand dunes at the base of a mountain range in Colorado. It is kind of a remote park in Colorado and the closest town that offers much of anything is Alamosa, which is more than 30 miles away. There is a lodge at the edge of the park that offers rooms, camping, and RV sites. This is where my daughter and I stayed. The room was nice and it had very close access to the park, but if you want anything you have to drive down to Alamosa.

The Great Sand Dunes

The main feature of the park is access to the sand dunes and hundreds of people bring or rent a sled and go there to play on the dunes. From the parking lot there is a small occasional stream that you walk across to get to the dunes. This stream was very cold in the morning when I first crossed it. Below is a shot looking down from the dunes toward the parking lot showing lots of people on the dunes. There were many more behind me, out of shot.

My main goal was to get up on the dunes with my camera and try to take some unique photos. I was kind of looking for curves and lines that would look good against the mountains. I was there in the late morning and midday and there weren’t shadows to add contrast to the sand, but my plan was to return later in the afternoon when the sun would be lower and I could use the shadows. Below is an image with a nice curve in the dunes and the mountain in the background. I think it might look better with a little shadow to add some contrast.

Rolling dunes

One thing to consider about climbing in this park is that it starts at an elevation of about 7874 feet and some of the dunes are over 700 feet tall. So, if you are someone from a much lower elevation, like me, you will yourself out of breath much quicker as you climb around the dunes. The dunes didn’t look all that daunting from the bottom as I often hike and climb landscapes steeper and higher than this back home. But the altitude combined with trying to climb in the soft shifting sand, had me sitting down and resting at several points along the climb. But I was determined to get up near the top to take some photos. In the photo below, it looks so easy doesn’t it? But when going up the slope, every step sinks back down and you end up taking 3 times as many steps to climb as you would if it were a solid hill.

My plans to return later in the afternoon were spoiled by my own stupidity unfortunately, so I can tell you one important thing not to do when visiting the Great Sand Dunes. Do not go barefoot.

When we got there in the morning, we took off our shoes to cross the cold stream. Then we got to the sand on the other side and it was soft and cool so we just continued to walk bare-footed and this was fine. We got to a spot where my daughter wanted to hang out but I still wanted to climb, and here’s the important part, so I left my shoes and socks with her and climbed up the nice soft dunes with my bare feet. Notice the intelligent people in the photo above wearing shoes on their feet? One of them is even apparently from Texas, so I have no excuses here.

I climbed up the dunes, took photos, and had no problems other than the thin air. I worked around the many people on the dunes trying to take interesting shots and planned for what I might try later in the afternoon, when I was going to return. I took several photos and then began to hike back down.

The hike down was easy with gravity and the soft sand assisting my descent. As I got towards the bottom, I noticed that the sand was getting hotter and hotter as it has been baking in the clear sky sun with the thin atmosphere not removing much of the heat. At the bottom it began to really begin hurting my feet and there was a long plateau of sand that I had to cross to get to the stream. My daughter and shoes were back at the stream, so I had no choice but to plod forward and endure the stinging pain on my feet.

The next thing that I found was at the bottom of the dunes, mixed in the with sand are rather sharp tiny shards of rock to further attack my burning feet. There was really no avoiding this as I am a flightless mammal and had to walk through it. I took large fast steps, but there were many steps to take. I finally made it to the stream and walked around cooling my feet and generally feeling like a moron.

I cleaned off my feet to inspect the damage and to put my shoes back on and saw the several blisters that I had developed. One large blister had already opened and was full of sand. So, we got some first aid supplies and headed back to the lodge. Walking was quite painful, even with my shoes at this point. I cleaned and bandaged my feet, but I knew I my hiking and climbing was done for a while.

We spent most of the rest of the day going to Alamosa and I hobbled around so my daughter could look in the shops and we had pizza and drinks at a nice little restaurant. There were some hiking trails that had looked interesting to us, but I wasn’t hiking anywhere on these feet. My next couple of days were driving through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana to get to Yellowstone so at least that was easy on my feet. It has been a week now and I can walk comfortably with a bandage on the worst wound, but it is heeling.

The moral of the story is that if you go to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, bring shoes with you out to the dunes unless you want to be an idiot with blistered feet. Or you might be stuck taking photos from the back porch of the lodge like I was.

31 thoughts on “What Not to do at the Great Sand Dunes

  1. Yeah, there really should be signs about wearing shoes right? I’m sure you aren’t the first one to treat the dunes like a beach.
    Every good trip has their stories and you’ve got a good one here! Sounds like you guys are having an awesome adventure πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This story was a real toe-curler. My feet hurt until the end. Too bad you weren’t at White Sands National Park. I was there about four years ago, during the summer, and found that I could walk barefoot through sand in the middle of the day. I think the white color of the sand, and the gypsum that it’s made of, helps to keep it from warming up too much.

    I love the photos, though. Those are beautiful dunes, and the backdrop of the mountains makes it all spectacular.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One of these times I won’t be a day late seeing your blog post! The pictures are really good. I didn’t realize the dunes were that high , I am sure I would have been stopping to rest as well. Not quite as easy as just walking along the beach for miles. Thinking this was a lesson that you won’t soon forget. Too bad that it was a painful one, but glad that your feet are healing.
    Maybe you should have tried sliding down the dunes. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Am I able to sit a lot at work. That is just about all I do at work. That’s why I go hiking.

          Imagine if you got injured and had to not talk for a week so you could heal up?

          Like

          1. Ooooh! 😢🀚!
            I am laughing, as I ..smack my head … for that has happened to me several times before! More than your typical laryngitis. Not a hoarse voice, no voice! I can barely whisper and in the beginning it would last for 6 days straight AND yes it drove me crazy! LOL!
            Now its just a couple days when it happens and rsrely happens now thankfully!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I am just thinking of the average husband’s reaction upon finding out that his wife must not talk for 6 days. I mean average husband and I’m sure that it doesn’t apply in your case.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. I told you. My theory is that women can actually speak about 5 times more words than men can listen to. This explains blank stares and occasional nodding and “umm-hmmm” and stuff like that.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Haha! I am resisting the urge to throw something.
              I probably should have resisted the urge to tell you in the first place, but I just had to laugh when you said “imagine not being able to talk for a week”…
              Been there, done that, NOT fun! BUT maybe its good I told you for now I proved that being silent for a week is possible! πŸ˜›

              Liked by 1 person

            4. The look on my face answers your question … but I will be kind and spell it out for you, When something has been proven once already, there isn’t really a need to prove it again.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. Glad you enjoyed a trip to my home state. When I lived in Monte Vista (just west of Alamosa) I visited the Great Sand Dunes in very early spring (you’d never want to go later than April-it’s too hot). Medano Creek was an absolute highlight. The kids and I sat in the cool water while the sand grew around us as the water passed and we sank in the bed (it dries up during summer). The kids giggled and we’d get up and find a new spot to experience it all over. The current of the shallow creek is fairly strong.

    Hiking up the dunes can be quite arduous even for those of us used to altitude) but most exhilarating…the rolling down, hysterical. The views of the valley are wide and inspiring. The only thing that was particularly vexing was the removal of the sand from all orifices of the body and the numerous cleanings to my camera. It took repeated cleaning for everything to be rid of that beautiful sand.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. At that time I was new to SLR photography but that powdery sand still managed to get everywhere including in my bag. All’s well that ends well but it took a lot of patience getting rid of it. I may need to go back (next year) to experience it again. The whole San Luis Valley is something to behold for its culture and geography that is out of this world.

        Liked by 2 people

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