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The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in southern Colorado and is one of the latest national parks created, in 2004. Before that it was a National Monument. Compared to many other national parks in the country, including the most famous two in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park and Mesa Verde National Park, the park is not visited that often. Still, it's a popular place to hang out for half a day or more if you are keen on taking longer hikes.
Most of the sand originated in the San Juan Mountains, about 65 miles to the west. Wind and water are the primary movers of the sand. Streams, creeks, melting snows and flash floods brought bits of rock out of the mountains to the valley floor. Southwesterly winds then began the slow process of bouncing the sand toward the low curve of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. There they pilled up at the base of the mountains or dropped into creeks to be washed back out toward the valley floor. Although research is still continuing, most researchers agree that the situation is like this at least for 12,000 years but probably much longer.
The show piece of this beautiful park of course are the sand dunes itself, some of them which rise well over 200 metres from the San Luis Valley floor. They are backened by the southern range of the Rocky Mountains, which rise up to 14,000 feet (4,300 metres) above sea level. The combination of snowcapped mountains with Sahara-like sand dunes is really magnificent and unlikely to experience elsewhere on this planet.
Just north of the visitors center, take a left to the main parking lot, from where many hikes go to the base of the dunes or around it. Or you can just go on to the dunes if you feel liking sweating.
Like most national parks, it's open 24/7, 365 days a year.
The park can be reached by taking either route 150 which branches off US Highway 160 about 20 miles (32 kilometres) east of Alamosa, which is the largest nearby town. Otherwise take route 17 north from Alamosa and take the first one right (country lane 6) which connects with route 150 as well.
There is a little accommodation in or just near the park. For more choice, it's the best to head to Alamoso, about a 40-minute drive southwest from the park's entrance.
There is a campground inside the park at Pinyon Flats.
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