Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

"Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and forgives transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:18-19

All sand dunes around the world have their unique way they were formed. The Great Sand Dunes have their own history of volcanic activity, mountain uplift, rift separation, and sediment erosion. But winds...especially opposing winds...are the true architects of the large tall dunes here. These winds are strong! The winds here typically blow from the Southwest across the San Luis Valley and funnel from Northeast, over Medano and Music Pass of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.

From the parking lot, the Dunes appear calm, quiet, and untouched. But as you make your way across the dried out creek and the first 1/2 mile of flats to the first small (relatively) dunes, you quickly see what you thought was serene...is in fact chaotic. There are several people around making their way towards the dunes...there are more hikers off in the distance climbing the dune ridges...boarders attempting to make their way down the sand slopes.

There were hoards of people enjoying the sand on this day. Which made my observation on the way back from this short hike even more wonderful...As we made our way to the first ridge going up, the winds began to pick up. We had been hiking about 20 minutes or so from the car, when the winds began blowing hard. I looked back across the flats and saw no one behind us. The sand was blowing so hard, it hurt...I could see the sand fiercely blowing off the crest of the dunes.

We started making our way back across the flats when I noticed that my footprints were gone. Just like that! Gone! The winds erased my tracks. Any blemish I made as a trace on this land was completely made clean by the winds. As I looked across the landscape, all previous signs of scarring on the land was too made anew!

I see every mistake, choice, or wrongdoing we make like my footprints in the sand that day. It's just one mistake after another...just a long trail of defeat...always reminding us of the previous places we have been every time we look back.

But God is like the mighty wind! He pardons and forgives...He is merciful! He cleanses and makes us new. That day on the sand, I gave thanks to Jesus for interceding for me! Because of him, God makes me clean! There is no trail of bad choices that I have certainly made...all the mistakes in the past have been erased...and all that is left for God to see when He sees me...is an unblemished, clean, and beautiful life! Thank you Jesus!

(A picture of the San Luis Valley to the Southwest...the San Juans off in the distance.)

The sunset over the dunes from our campsite. The dunes' size from the distance is misleading. Especially since you have larger 14,000' mountains that dwarf the dunes. But in reality, these dunes are tall!
Who: Sarah and I
When: 7/20/12
What: High Dune
Mileage: 2.5 miles roundtrip
Time: 2 hours
We woke up at 4:45 a.m., ate at PB sandwich, loaded up the Prius and drove over to the TH to start our ascent of the Dunes. We were told the previous day by a ranger that the easiest way to move along the dunes is by staying on the dune ridges. Our goal was to hike over to Star Dune...which is the tallest dune in North America (stands in at 750 feet tall) and watch the sun come over the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. To give you a better idea of scale...the picture above is taken of a hiker the previous day making his way up the lower dunes...High Dune is toward the upper left corner of this picture and I could not capture it on my camera. I needed a wider lens camera from my vantage point.

It took Sarah and I a little under an hour to make it up to  High Dune. Which is the 2nd largest dune here. It is 650 ft tall and a little over a mile trek to get to. Unfortunately, I could not take any pictures before we summited this dune due to it being dark. The picture above are the first dunes to see light. The picture was taken from High Dune.
This is the ridge line of High Dune. Which unfortunately we thought was Star Dune. Sarah and I didn't study the topography of the dunes...really, this trip was an audible call we made two days before. We originally wanted to backpack into Willow Lake and climb Kit Carson and Challenger, nearby 14ers. But due to logistical error a few days before, we decided it was best to come here instead. No regrets, but we really didn't know much about this place before we came. So when we made our way to High Dune...we thought we reached Star Dune. Reason being...there was no higher dune in sight. From where we stood this morning, we were on the highest dune in the park. There was not one dune higher in any direction. And though we were told the day before that it took an average of 2 hours to reach Star dune, I just thought Sarah and I were faster than the average hiker. I should have known...since there is no way we can cut the average hike time by half. What I learned later on, is that the Great Sand Dunes are located on a slope that goes up from West to East. Star Dune is located West of High Dune...so it appears that High Dune is taller because High Dune sits up higher on the slope that rises into the mountains. And as you can see in the picute above...the dunes do in fact gently slope up from left to right. But when you are there in person...on the dune...you can't tell. So Sarah and I missed out on hiking the Star Dune since we mistakenly thought we summited the tallest dune. Oh well...gives me another reason to come back.
Sarah and I were also fortunate to be hiking on a very calm morning. Unlike the day before...there was no wind. We were not looking forward to getting blasted by sand grains...but we avoided that hardship. One other thing that was different a complete surpise to us...how stinkin difficult it is to hike up a dune. For every step you take up, you slide down a few inches. It is hard! If I trained on these dunes all the time...I could go up any mountain and never tire! Well...you know what I mean!
The real reason I got up so early is to see the light and shadows of the dunes...I've seen them before in pictures and it always fascinates me. Seeing it in person was truly a blessing...
This is one is my favorite picture of the morning!
Can you spot Sarah in the picture above?
Sarah and I didn't even spend 24 hours here...we were ready to come home and see our girls. But there is much more to do in this park with several day hikes and a few backpacking trails that lead to alpine areas. We enjoyed our short time here and I am certain we will be back. This past week was very rewarding for Sarah and I...but we were both exhausted from all of our activites and we still had a 10 hour drive home on this same day. On my drive home...I reflected on the past week and all the places we visited. As we got closer to home...my focus began to shift ahead. I kthen started to think about my climb of Mt. Whitney...the mountaineer's route...It's on!


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