Our recent trip to the beaches at Potato Point reminded me that I haven’t shared all the stops on our recent travels around the western part of the United States.
Not surprisingly, it was the sand at Potato Point that made me think of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in south-central Colorado.
First established as a national monument in 1932, the park has the tallest sand dunes in North America—Star Dune rises 755 feet or 230 metres.
Its reclassification to a national park and national preserve in 2004 was driven by the local people’s desire to protect the entire dune system, including the Medano and Sand creeks that run, intermittently, through the area. Initially the monument protected about 35,000 acres, but the expanded park and preserve is now about three times larger.
The dunes are believed to be about 440,000 years old and people have inhabited the area for the last 11,000 years.
Most of the sand comes from the San Juan Mountains, 65 miles to the west. The larger, rougher grains and pebbles come from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which run through the preserve, but only on the edge of the park.
Soon after we arrived, Poor John and I walked across the flat sand to the start of the dunes. There wasn’t any water running in the creeks. It was too late in the afternoon and way too hot to actually carry on up the dunes (many others were ahead of us), but we had a great view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
That evening we put up our tent at a privately-run campground, which is just outside the park. Only a few steps from our tent, there was a fabulous view of the dunes. The campground restaurant wasn’t quite so spectacular. The food was okay, but stone cold when it arrived. That said, we loved visiting the dunes.
More about the dunes and sand
I was interested to learn that the park is made up of three distinct parts—the sabkha, the sand sheet and the dunefields.
The sabkha, which is located way beyond where we visited, makes up about one-third of the park. It’s a crusty formation that develops where the water table is very high. It’s an important habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife.
The sand sheet consists of low rolling hills that lie between the sabkha and the dunefields. The grasses and shrubs that grow there help to slow the ‘march’ of the dune.
The dunefields are what we visited. They look barren but support hardy animals and plants, including Indian rice grass and scurfpea.
A few comments relating to the US government shutdown
According to the park’s website, the dunes will continue to be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the government shutdown. However, the visitor centre and entrance station will remain closed and no visitor services will be available. I bet the campground and restaurant are open.
Also, two articles from The Guardian have caught my eye recently. Both relate to how US national parks are suffering.
The first item tells of Dan Little, a retired data expert with the US National Forest Service and husband to Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown. This week, he was so dismayed by the filthy state of the public bathrooms at Mount Hood National Forest’s Sno-Park that he cleaned them himself. I was shocked by the ‘before’ photo that accompanied the article. You’d think, especially under the current circumstances, that people would make an effort to clean up after themselves. It’s not that hard to take your rubbish away with you.
Which leads me to the second item, which appeared in November. That was more than a month before the government shutdown. Even then the article’s authors were explaining the affect people were having on the US national parks—quite simply ‘tourists are loving nature to death’.
Both articles are short and worth a read. I should point out that, like Dan Little in Oregon, hundreds of passionate volunteers are carrying cleanup tasks in many national parks.