sand dunes


We have heard of Highway 50 being the loneliest road (from Fallon to Ely, NV) in the United States: the road runs parallel to the Pony Express Trail (used for 18 months from April 1860 to Oct 1861 to deliver mail in record time of 10 days from Missouri to California). Just that fact intrigued us: we wanted to see what the loneliest road is. We got our chance on this trip as we wanted to visit the Great Basin National Park and Highway 50 was the perfect route to get there. We fueled up in Lake Tahoe as we expected no gas station on this road for at least 300 miles (as it turned out there were a couple of dinky and expensive gas stations. I won’t count on them being opened forever) before we headed off on our adventure.

First thing we noticed the road was, although dubbed lonely, not boring. Sand Mountain in the distance Not long after being on the road, we saw some sand dunes in the distance on the left; we made a turn toward it and discovered it is the Sand Mountain Recreation Area. ATV riders on Sand Mountain Sand Dune, NVThe place is managed by BLM and is designated as a fee area for ATV riders and hikers. There were a lot of campers there with RVs and trailers. We saw one trailer with sophisticated hydraulic controls to load and unload ATVs, an expensive hobby to have. We saw some kids, as young as 10, were out riding ATVs on the sand dunes. Well, at least they had helmets on.

Going over a hill on Highway 50The road was mostly straight and flat except when it climbed over a few hills. Between two hills, it laid a vast barren land. Going over a hill on Highway 50There were many snow-capped mountains in the distance. The landscape was dotted with sagebrush. There weren’t many towns and when there was one, there wasn’t much in the town. The cell phone reception was almost non-existent. However, We found the road beautiful and compelling. We will travel it again in the future.

Highway 50 in Nevada

Believe it or not but the tallest sand dunes in America is in Colorado, a place not known to be a desert environment. We have always found deserts fascinating: the simple beauty of sand dunes and its abundance of life when you expect none. We have gone to Death Valley to see spring blossom, to Saguaro NP to see the majestic cacti, and to Joshua Tree NP for its unique yuccas. I remember one time we were in a sand storm while hiking on a Death Valley sand dune; the sand formed a layer of sand cloud suspended about one foot off the ground, flowing around our feet as if we were walking on heaven. Here at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, we saw the tallest sand dunes.

The dunes were formed as eroding sand from the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains were trapped in the San Luis Valley. Over the millennia, sand slowly piled up to where they are today: sanddunes without a desert. It was a popular place and we were lucky to find a campsite on late Wednesday afternoon. The next afternoon around the same time, the whole campsite were full. By early Friday morning around 6, new campers were lined up to take any vacant spots. Arrive early and get a campsite overlooking the sand dunes; it is worth it.

Sand Ripples and Animal FootprintsIn the morning, we loved to head out to the dunes when the sand was still cool and the ripple marks on sand dunes were still undisturbed. We usually would catch a few animal footprints as well. Also it was safer. By the afternoon, the sand would get too hot to walk on it barefooted and there was also the risk of lightning. On a sand dune, any person would be a likely candidate of lightning. We saw a sample of fulgurites (crystallized sand due to lightning) and we didn’t want to challenge the power of the nature. The wind usually picked up in the afternoon as well and may holler all night, wiping out all the marks of daily doodles and returning it to its natural beauty again the next morning.

Kadia big smile with sandKids love to play in sand; Kadia was no exception. She raced around sand dunes, slid down them, fell into them, buried herself in sand and tossed sand around as if it was magical dust. She ran down this one sand hill but fell face down into the sand. We were expecting her to cry but she got up with this big smile, her face, teeth, eyelashes all covered in sand. It also brought out the child in us as we run around and laughed our heads off. Kadia liked it so much that she did her junior ranger activity book and got a junior ranger badge.

Hiking on sand was tough though. A 700-foot sand dune may equal to a 3000-foot mountain as each step we took, we slid back down to the exact same spot we started with if not further. With a baby on my back (see the photo below), I soon gave up the idea of scaling the tallest sand dunes, maybe next time. If you ever are in Colorado, stop by this park and have a blast.

Hiking at Grand Sand Dunes

We camped next to this Dutch couple with their one-year-old daughter, Julia. They were on 3 weeks tour and were camping as well. We saw a lot of CruiseAmerican RVs on this trip and quite a number of them were Europeans. They indicated that they loved outdoors and wouldn’t think of staying in a RV. We would like to take a camping trip to europe sometimes like they did here. That would be another great experience.

Bryden and JuliaDutch Family