Great Sand Dunes National Park

Bryan and Shelly at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park is just four hours south of Denver. FOUR! We were that close to the tallest sand dunes in North America for three years and never went. Having our home on wheels when we finally made this stop made for an unforgettable few days.

Going Off the Grid

For those of you who don’t know what boondocking is, it is going off the grid. No electric, water, sewer hook ups, or amenities. This obviously requires a bit of planning if you want to stay somewhere for more than a night or two, especially when you work full-time and have to keep your top half presentable for the current era of Zoom calls. Things you take for granted like showering, brewing a pot of coffee, or flushing the toilet all require water and when you are off the grid, there is not an endless supply. However, boondocking provides privacy, tranquility, and usually incredible views and Bryan and I would much rather be in the middle of nowhere than a crowded, noisy RV park.

What, Like It's Hard?

We bought a generator, water jugs, and groceries and decided to give boondocking a whirl. We stayed at Sacred White Shell Mountain, which overlooks Blanca Peak, the highest summit of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I cannot describe the emotions I felt as we parked our travel trailer in front of the 14,351-foot mountain peak, knowing that we lived there now. The wind got pretty intense at times, which led to some laughs while trying to add more fresh water to our tank. The wind did its best to make sure the water went everywhere but the funnel.

Sacred White Shell Mountain

Frozen Falls

If you are near the Great Sand Dunes, you have to visit Zapata Falls. The road up to the trailhead is very rough, but it’s worth it. It is a short hike up from the trailhead, but you have to walk across rocks and the flowing water in order to get to the falls. Ask me how I know my Moab hiking boots are waterproof.

Shelly barnacling the river wall
Bryan standing in a river

Being there in early May afforded us a spectacular sight. The falls hadn’t completed thawed yet, so half of the falls were frozen and the most stunning shade of blue and half of the falls were crashing down from above.

Frozen Zapata Falls
Frozen Zapata Falls
Frozen Zapata Falls
Bryan standing in a river

After coming down the trail we got our first peak of the sand dunes. We were so preoccupied to get up to the falls, we didn’t even look that way when we parked. Make sure you look, because it is a spectacular view of the dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains!

Sand Dunes National Park

Medano Creek

Depending on when you visit the dunes, you might have to get wet first! Medano Creek crosses your path to the dunes during the spring and early summer months, created by snowmelt from the surrounding mountains. It was shallow while we were there, but my waterproof boots were put to the test again. Seeing the dunes up close while the sun was setting and the creek was trickling by was breathtaking. It is windy at the dunes, too, and each night all of the footprints and sand board tracks from the day are wiped away, ready for a new crowd of visitors in the morning.

Crossing Medano Creek at Sunset

I made it extra waxy for you

The next day we decided to have some fun and play on the dunes. The Oasis Store is right outside of the park and lets you rent equipment. My apparatus of choice was a sled and Bryan opted for a sandboard. We signed a waiver, got some wax, got a quick demo on how to keep our board/sled extra slick, and we were off!

Clouds rolling in over the sand dunes
Bryan putting his sand board on

Crushed It

The weather was cloudy when we got to the dunes, which kept the sand nice and cool. In summer months the sand can get up to 150°F. We made our way through the creek, sled and board over our shoulders like we knew what we were doing. There are many dunes to choose from, so we picked the closest, steepest one and hiked up. We definitely got our steps in that day. Climbing up soft sand dunes for hours is quite a work out. At the top we waxed up while watching others’ techniques, which included screams, laughs, huge smiles, wipe outs, and four letter words.

Great Sand Dunes Park

Bryan went down first, made it about 3 seconds, and fell. We both laughed hysterically, assessed for injuries, and then he made it the rest of the way down the dune.

Bryan boarding the dunes

My run didn’t go quite as planned. I lined myself up with the sled teetering over the edge, then pushed off and immediately rotated 180°, causing me to plummet down the dune backwards. I laugh-screamed the entire way and broke out into a fit of giggles at the bottom. I wish I could say it only happened once, but I would absolutely be lying. This happened EVERY. SINGLE. TIME! It was still incredibly fun and neither of us broke anything, so I consider that a win.

Bryan boarding the dunes

What Do You Think the Cats Are Doing?

Obviously the cats couldn’t hit up the dunes with us, so what did they do while we were gone? Sleep, of course! And in the most awkward positions you can possibly imagine.

Lumpy asleep in the back of the truck
Catalina sleeping in her carrier