It was August 25th, 2016, the National Park Service’s 100th Birthday! Only by luck did we find ourselves celebrating with NPS rangers and tourists at the Great Sand Dunes National Park just south of Crestone, Colorado. Our last minute plans coincidentally brought us here on this special day. Rangers sang songs in a circle, a large birthday banner was spread across the entrance. Inside were balloons and an especially tasty cake. A poster board asked people to write down their wishes for the park system. I agree with Ken Burns, these national parks are America’s best idea. I love them all.
Chris and I have been here several times before, together and separately. In 2002, we hiked into the dunes and spent the night on the sand under the silent stars. Today would only be a daytime exploration.
As we ate lunch the sky became heavy and dark. We crossed the Medano Creek, a broad path of trickling water, and headed to the steep rise of the actual dunes. Chris aspired to climb to the top of the first ridge to view the vast expanse of the entire dune field. I was content to roam the lower dunes with my camera, watching the other people play and keeping track of the changing sky, light and shadows. Some people rented saucers to sled down the slopes; a few used snowboards.
Gradually the wind picked up and rain threatened. Clouds lowered, obscuring some of the mountain tops. Sand blew hard, stinging any exposed skin. I needed to close my eyes at times and shield my camera. Far at the top of the ridge, I could see curtains of sand blowing into the sky from the unobstructed wind. Chris had been appearing and disappearing from view as he scaled the ups and downs of the layers of dunes leading to the top. Eventually, I could see the small spot of his silhouette stop just short of the summit. After a few minutes, he began the descent down; I guessed that the wind and flying sand had become unbearable.
As we headed to our car, the stormy weather receded quickly revealing more sky and light. The sinuous, sensuous forms of the dunes became vivid as shadows deepened in the late afternoon sun.
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