Great Sand Dunes National Park 4th July

We knew that it would be crowded, but the queue in was so bad that we gave up and turned around. Every year the 4th July week is the busiest with many full campgrounds. As it was a Thursday, one day’s leave gives an American a 4-day holiday; a lot seem to grab this opportunity.
This National Park is very popular (despite our book describing it as one of the quietest) as kids have sand dunes to roll, sledge or sandboard down next to a shallow creek with wave surges to play in.
We stopped just outside at the Great Sand Dunes Lodge, finding that the RV site was a car park and fortunately full. However, most of the tent sites were available and a lot more pleasant. We put our tent up, had tea and got back to the National Park in time for a Ranger talk and a walk up to the dunes outlook.
The campsite was riddled with mosquitos so we retreated to the RV and planned to get up early for the main walk. Star Dune is the highest sand dune in the USA and the choice is a longer compacted ridge walk, or a softer more direct route. The walk, described as gruelling, is tough. At times we walked a few paces before resting. We aimed for the highest peak; it was hard walking in soft sand at altitude but we kept plodding on. Eventually we arrived at High Dune to see the higher Star Dune higher and until then, invisible. Caroline considered giving up, firstly because she was tired and secondly the peak was full of noisy kids flying kites. We decided to trudge on just as the kids (on an adventure holiday) started to leave. Unbelievably we had the summit to ourselves; one man arrived, having left his partner behind, but he quickly jogged off. Another couple of men arrived discussing the 850 cal they had burned off, but again left quickly.

This amazing National Park was ours to savour, with a 3D view all around from USAs tallest sand dune – fabulous. This park has rare endemic insects and the tiger salamander, sand dunes, wetlands, mountains still with snow and forests. It probably has the most diversity of wildlife anywhere. We saw plenty of tracks and burrows, but sadly no actual wildlife, unless you count the mosquitoes (at the top of the dune even!) Sometimes completing a walk makes you feel great and this was one of those walks. So, we ended our first week back by completing our visits of all the National Parks in the South West with a park that humans have inhabited for 11,000 years and hunted woolly mammoths in.

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