A habitat for coastal plants, sand lizards, and the yellow-bellied marmot, sand dunes are mounts, ridges or hills of sand that are formed by the wind. The tallest one in the North American Continent is protected by the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The well-known Star Dune, towering at 755 feet, is among what is included in its territory.
This park is found in Southern Colorado, United States of America, and its dunes are pushed against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It houses more than 30 square miles of giant dunes. The national park and preserve do more than just accommodate people who see it as a tourist spot. It also protects water-driven and wind-driven systems, such as creeks that demonstrate a rare hydrologic phenomenon, surge flow, houses numerous plants and animals. It includes important archaeological sites that date to around 9000 years ago.
Although the sand is dormant, water and wind are the catalysts for constructing these marvelous dunes. The traditional Ute word “Saawaapmaanache” translates to “sand that moves.” Dunes appear to grow and truly escalate in size because of the surrounding mountains that erode as time passes. Tiny rock fragments from these mountains accumulate and form these massive dunes.
In the 1920s, gold was found in this location, resulting in the trend of gold mining and sand extraction for cement. This had caught the attention of San Luis Valley residents for the dunes’ protection, preservation, and sustainability. Their advocacy had reached former President Herbert Hoover and thus the proclamation of this geologic wonderland into a national monument in 1932.
On November 22, 2000, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act was passed by the U.S. Congress. This authorized the expansion of the national monument into a national park that was nearly four times its prior span. Just like the movement made by the San Luis Valley residents, this Act was also the fruit of their movement.
People say that one needs snow to enjoy sledding down a slope, but the Great Sand Dunes gives this opportunity all year round. Sledding and boarding are some of the many fun activities families can take part in.
The park is open 24/7, and for astronomy and astrology enthusiasts, this is a delight. From this park, people can view the night sky, take photographs, and, if fortunate, see the famous and fascinating view of the Milky Way. Campers can also set their tents for a sleepover on the dunes. In fact, in 2019, the International Dark Sky Association certified the Great Sand Dunes as an International Dark Sky Park because of the park’s complimenting combination of high elevation, dry air, and little light pollution that create the perfect avenue for stargazing.
Adulthood can take away some joys and creativity, but in this park, almost any adult’s inner child is reawakened by taking a trip to the Medano Creek. Here, visitors can build sandcastles, fly kites, and take a refreshing dip.
Fossils were found in the Great Sand Dunes National Park such as one of the Columbian Mammoths, which are comparatively of greater size than the woolly mammoths. It had teeth as big as a human head. Based on scientific research, scientists are led to believe that the desert and valley were covered with abundant plant life and big lakes thousands of years ago. This is what a mammoth would need for its daily diet of 317 kilograms of vegetation.
It is notable to many that the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is no stranger to extreme conditions. The sand surface temperature on bright, sunny afternoons can peak at 65 degrees Celsius or 150 degrees Fahrenheit. On winter nights, it drops to about -29 degrees Celsius or -20 degrees Fahrenheit. There are periods such as in January that snow falls on the sands of this park.
The many plant species found in this park have adapted to diverse environments. Trees like aspen, Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, narrow-leaf cottonwood, and pinyon pine are among these plants. Flowering Plants that grow in the park are dwarf clover, Indian paintbrush, alpine aven, fairy primrose, alpine phlox, alpine forget-me-not, snow buttercups, Rocky Mountain Iris and white water buttercup.
Other than plants, distinct animals are also located in the park. Over 200 species of birds are found, such as the white-tailed ptarmigan, Brown-capped rosy finch, peregrine falcon, dusky grouse, mountain bluebird, red-breasted nuthatch, northern pygmy owl, and four species of hummingbird. Animals that join these birds are the tiger salamander, kangaroo rats, and the elks.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve hosts various types of terrain. From sandy deserts to lush grasslands and shrub lands to wetlands, where freshwater shrimp reside, a visit to this national park gives its visitors many refreshing and fascinating views.