Surfing Down Sand Dunes

Our time in Death Valley National Park was pretty amazing. We slept out under the stars for two nights without a tent (considering all of the times that we have camped in the rain and snow this was a real novelty). We also experienced being at the point of lowest elevation in North America, and we watched the sun rise and set over some of the most gorgeous rock formations. However, our absolute favorite part of the trip was hiking out onto the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

We had an absolute blast when we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado and were excited to find out that Death Valley has sand dunes of their own. In Colorado we were dressed in boots, hats, and rain coats, but when exploring the sand dunes of Death Valley we were able to slip off our sandals and enjoy the sand between our toes in t-shirts and shorts. We knew that the sand would get pretty hot by mid-day, so we arrived at Mesquite Flat early in the morning when the sand was still cool on our feet. By the time we left two hours later the our feet were already starting to feel what a huge impact the rising sun has on heating up the sand.

The best part about visiting sand dunes is that there is no single trail that you have to hike. It is really fun to watch each member of the family take their own path up the dunes. It is even more interesting to see how they get back down the other side. High Five loves to surf down on his stomach, while Five Ball enjoys running at full speed straight down. Five of Hearts has a much more graceful descent as she skips her way down each dune. By the time that we were done visiting the dunes we could have made our own mini sand dune with all the sand that was stuck to the kid’s bodies. Luckily we were able to take them swimming in the pool at the Furnace Creek Ranch. Sand dunes are super fun, but having water to wash up in afterwards makes things much more enjoyable.

 

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Leaving Our Mark at Great Sand Dunes National Park

DSC09003“Wait, they’re no trails we need to stay on?” The Younger Fives were in utter disbelief as we parked the car at Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and informed them they could hike anywhere they wanted. Being used to narrow, set trails that minimize the impact on fragile ecosystems, they thought maybe we were trying to trick them. However, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a wonderful anomaly in many ways, from allowing the freedom to blaze your own path to being able to leave your name (or any other design) behind in the ever-shifting sand.

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DSC09015The fun begins with a crossing of Medano Creek, a seasonal stream fed by melting snow on the Sangre de Cristo Range. We noticed immediately the stream was quite shallow, so we expected an uneventful fording. As we got about a quarter of the way across, we looked upstream to notice a small wave surge heading toward our sand bank. In a moment’s time we were ankle deep in water, scrambling to reach the next island of sand. After some observation we realized the water regularly dams behind small sand bars only to burst through, sending small waves to collect at the next sand obstruction. Trying to predict where the next patch of dry sand would be while outrunning the waves was absolutely delightful, and we had huge smiles on our faces as we reached the other side (albeit with soggy boots).

DSC08995 DSC09001 DSC09006 DSC09010The sand dunes themselves are a giant sandbox where just about anything goes. We all branched off to find our own paths up the dunes, and we soon realized climbing up the sand can be a bit of a workout. The highest dune, Star Dune, is 755 feet tall, but we contented ourselves with scaling some of the smaller peaks just a few hundred feet tall. Of course, coming down is the real treat, and we tried running, rolling, and sledding down on our bottoms (and there are even real sleds and sand boards to rent as well). After a few times up and down, we could really appreciate how the journey is never the same twice.

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On a final note, we really enjoyed camping at the park that evening. The campground is very close to the dunes, and a recent survey found Great Sand Dunes is the quietest national park in the contiguous 48 states. After an action-packed day of exploring the dunes, there’s nothing like unwinding over dinner, watching a sunset framed by sand 🙂