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Although the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado were “discovered” by European explorers in the 1880s, archeologists have found evidence that there were people living in the area for at least 11,000 years. In 1932, President Hoover was alarmed when he learned that gold mining and concrete companies wanted to establish operations in the area and moved swiftly to declare it a national monument to preserve it. At the time, the park covered around 35,500 acres. President Clinton and the Congress expanded the territory in 2000 to just over 149,000 acres and declared it a National Park. Though it’s not the largest desert in North America, it has the tallest sand dunes.
The closest town is Alamosa, about 35 miles southwest. Alamosa has a variety of restaurants and fast-food chains, shopping, and even a Walmart store. There is also a medical center with emergency services should the need arise. The town is also known for its annual Summer Fest on the Rio, which occurs in June. The festival features arts and crafts and also has live music for attendants to enjoy. Search for an RV in Alamosa County, and prepare to embark on an RV camping trip of a lifetime.
The sand dunes found along the east and west coasts pale in comparison with the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park. They soar up to 750 feet (roughly 55 stories high). Hikers, bikers, and other adventurers are welcome to explore the dunes, though they should be aware that the daytime temperature can be as high as 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66 degrees Celsius) during summers. There are no trails, and it can be easy to get disoriented, particularly if one loses sight of the mountains. If this occurs, summiting one of the dunes to find your orientation is a good option, though it may be a challenge on a hot day. People also enjoy sandboarding and sand sledding (boards and sleds are available for rent in Alamosa). The visitor center has wheelchairs fitted with fat tires so that everyone can enjoy the sandy terrain.
While there are no trails, the park maintains a 22-mile “road” that four-wheel vehicles are permitted on. Only street-licensed vehicles and motorcycles are allowed. Bear in mind that this road is very sandy, and it can be easy to get stuck. Vehicles are not allowed elsewhere in the park, partly to protect the sand dunes, and partly to protect the habitat of an endangered bug, the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle.
As of 2019, Great Sand Dunes National Park is an official International Dark Sky Park. Thanks to its remote location and the high mountains to the east and west blocking the light of cities, light pollution is minimal to nonexistent. The sky is extremely clear and dramatic. The Milky Way, which is normally a faint smeary haze, is distinct and vibrant. Various astronomical bodies like planets, galaxies, and nebulas can be seen with the naked eye, though a good telescope is recommended to magnify these spectacular objects. The park also operates evening programs on weekends during the summer months to help beginners identify celestial objects as well as aid them with their equipment if needed.
At night, listen to the sand hum as it shifts downhill. In the distance, coyotes sing to the moon. At sunrise, birds sing merrily to alert everyone within earshot. Rent an RV and achieve this outdoor fantasy. The Great Sand Dunes National Park RV Campground is about one mile north of the visitor center. The campground has 88 sites, and although there are no hookups, there are restrooms with flush toilets, water spigots, and dump stations. Heads up: because of the tight turns, RVs larger than 35 feet are not recommended. Reservations are highly recommended because space often goes quickly during the peak season.
Alternatively, one may RV camp at Oasis Campground, which is just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It has 90 campsites, all with full hookups. Campers also have access to showers, laundry, and a convenience store. Reservations are also recommended.
Sand Dunes Swimming Pool & Campground in Hooper, CO, may be a good candidate. It features full-hookups and a geothermal swimming pool. There is also an organic farm store with fresh produce (depending on the season) within walking distance.
Although Great Sand Dunes National Park is remote, there are several small towns scattered across the region, all with their own attractions and unique shops to explore. Stop in Duncan or Alamosa to find a souvenir to remind you of this perfect RV camping trip. Near Duncan, CO, is Crestone Ziggurat, a local oddity with murky origins. It resembles a tower with a spiral staircase winding around the exterior. People who manage to get to the top are rewarded with a San Luis Valley.
Did you know that gators are not found only in the south? In Mosca, CO, is Colorado Gators Reptile Park, a rescue and education center. In addition to touring the facility and learning about the alligators, guests can also sign up for thrilling reptile handling classes and gator wrestling classes.
There’s no need to head down to Roswell, NM to get a UFO fix. This region is reported to be visited by UFOs on occasion, and there’s a UFO watchtower in Center. The watchtower is part of the museum, and it has on display various memorabilia and “proof” that aliens are real. There is also a small gift shop on-site.
At the end of a long day of exploring and driving, retreat into the comforts of a travel trailer rental, and enjoy the quiet Colorado atmosphere.