Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado – Sandbox games

We escaped the snow, but not the winter. We measured -10° C this night, and even in daytime it is not much above freezing temperature. Just the sun is kind to us. At the foot of Sangre de Christo Range, a small mountain chain in southern Colorado, North America’s tallest sand dunes gathered. A part of the sand is flushed down from the mountains by small creeks; the majority is blown off the San Juan Mountains, part of the Rockies. Certain wind constellations care for the sand grains to exactly deposit here. Already from far we can see the yellow-beige dunes. The highest elevation in Great Sand Dunes National Park is 229 m. The sand field is prohibited for vehicles, but you can climb on all dunes. That’s just not that easy: The plinth is already at 2,500 m, and then you have to climb 200 m in soft sand: three steps forward, two back. We’ve earned lunch heavily breathing. At half the distance up to the mountain a young man approaches us with big steps. We are astonished as he explains us puffing that not many people go up here. He wasn’t even sure. He hoped to be motivated in our company. Arrived on the peak we celebrate the Canadian’s birthday with lemonade and crackers. The sand warms up fast in the sun, but in the shadow or an inch below the surface it is deeply frozen. If it takes an hour to climb up, downhill it only takes minutes. I run safely with giant strides down the slope and am happy as a child.

Behind the dunes an 18 km long off-road trail, Medano Pass Primitive Road, leads up to Sangre de Christo Range. We get a map at the visitor centre and ask if we could make it through with our vehicle. An elder lady is at the information desk. Just to put it mildly: She seems to be retired for three times and has always returned. She asks for the width of our truck, but she doesn’t seem to be interested in the height. Maybe she doesn’t see very well. The trail is accessible with four-wheel drive and sufficient clearance. It consists of soft sand and a brook has to be crossed several times. So far, so funny. Then we go up to the mountains through peripheral aspen forest. The trees stand closer and closer, coming through gets more and more a problem. I drag some boundary posts, which are in our way, out of the sand and sink the stakes then again. I clear a few branches of some trees, and eventually I pull out two complete trunks including roots that are at least double of my size and throw them afterwards into the forest. Admitted, they were relics of a former forest fire, but it wasn’t that easy anyway! Joerg brandishes his axe and tries to manoeuvre the truck through the woods. After half of the distance we give up. The upper branches threaten to damage our solar panel or the skylight and we turn back; with a few scratches, but no bigger wounds.

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