The United States Congress designated the Great Sand Dunes Wilderness (map
) in 1976 and it now has a total of 32,643 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Colorado
and is managed by the National Park Service.
The Great Sand Dunes Wilderness is bordered by
the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
to the east.
For century after century, streams, creeks, melting snows, and flash floods brought bits of rock that became sand grains out of the mountains and to the valley floor. When sand lay exposed, southwesterly winds began the slow process of bouncing the grains toward the low curve of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains where they piled up to become the Great Sand Dunes. Reaching heights of 700 feet, these are the tallest dunes in North America, and the sight of them lying at the very foot of the snow-clad Sangres can be a bit unsettling at first. This is the only Wilderness defined as a saltbush-greasewood ecosystem, with hardy plants that include blowout grass, Indian ricegrass, scurfpea, and prairie sunflower. It's also the only place on Earth where you'll find the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle and the giant sand treader camel cricket. Kangaroo rats may be seen dancing lightly on the shifting sands, and the night awakens other interesting denizens of the dunes.
You really should stay overnight in order to appreciate the greatest wonder of the dunes: the ever-alternating colors and shadows as the sun moves across the sky and the moon rises.