Great Sand Dunes National Park – November 2018

Hannah – 5 years old – National Park #4

We arrived in the city of Alamosa early afternoon and went straight to our hotel – Holiday Inn Express & Suites – for a swim.  With the distance we already drove from Santa Fe, and the park being another 45 minutes from Alamosa, I didn’t want to push Hannah’s patience and car trip time any further that day, as I knew this vacation was going to be a lot of car riding and driving overall.  We were spending two nights in Alamosa, so we had the entire next day to explore the park.  Also, being the only adult, I don’t have the ability to research anything while in the car, so I spent that first night figuring out a plan. 

Sand Sleds

I was researching what to do in the park and everything I was reading said to rent sand sleds or sand boards (like a snow board) and bring them to the park.  Thankfully the reviews I was reading also informed me that these have to be rented in Alamosa and they DO NOT rent them at the National Park.  I am so thankful I read that in advance, as I would have had a very sad 5 year old on my hands if we showed up and had to drive 45 minutes back to town for the sled!

Hannah with the sand sled

As luck would have it, there was a sports shop within walking distance of our hotel!  We stopped at Kristi Mountain Sports the next morning and rented one adult sand sled for $20.  They had child sized ones available as well, but I knew I would already be carrying a backpack along with the adult sled, and I figured we could share.  They gave us the sled and taught us how to “wax” it before every run. 

Visitor Center

The drive out was pretty uneventful.  You could see the mountainous sand dunes in the distance but it was hard to tell how far away they were.  Everything else around us was flat.  As we drove into the park, we saw hundreds of elk grazing in a field.  The Visitor Center was great and Hannah wanted to play with every cool sand storm exhibit they had in there.  We asked the rangers where to go and they informed us of where to park and said, “You can go anywhere!  But the higher you climb, the better the sledding!”  We drove down to the parking lot and got our daypack ready, loaded with clothes layers, PB&Js we made in the morning in our hotel room, and other snacks. 

Hannah crossing the Medano Creek River Bed

You start by crossing the Medano Creek river bed and hiking about ½ mile before you hit the dunes.  In November, when we were there, it is a dry river bed, but in the spring, with the snow melting off the mountains, it is an actual river that you wade through.  The sand can get pretty hot there in the summer, so it is recommended that you were tennis shoes rather than flip flops, but that was not as big of a concern in the late fall. 

The Dunes

PB&J lunch break

I wasn’t sure how far Hannah would make it before she needed a break.  But to my surprise, we actually made it about halfway up to the top before she said she wanted to try the sled.  We waxed it up and took our first ride down together, her in front of me.  We hit an unfortunate bump which made sand fly right into her face.  She thought this was hilarious, while I was glad she blocked it all from hitting my face!  We took several more rides on this medium sized hill, testing the sled out together and separately. 

The way the dunes are shaped by the winds can make some areas really tough, if not impossible to climb up.  You have to find a ridgeline and hike that and then decide which “bowl” you are going to slide down.  The sand seemed to be finer as you went up, making the sled go faster.  

It was a gorgeous fall day without a cloud in the sky.  With the wind blocked, the sun felt amazing and we removed several layers of clothes.  However, as soon as you crested a ridgeline and that wind hit, you wanted them all back on right away.  We took a break for lunch and then decided to explore more. 

I let Hannah lead the way and she found a new bowl for us to try.  Instead of sledding, she decided she wanted to roll down into it.  At the bottom, we were completely blocked by the wind.  She played in that bowl doing headstands, cartwheels, and rolling around while I relaxed and soaked up the sun. 

Sandy-hair Headstands

Hiking Out and Dinner

As the sun was getting lower in the sky, I knew it would get colder, so we decided to slowly make our way back to the car, sledding down the dunes where we could.  We pulled back into Alamosa around dinner time, dropped off the sled at Kristi Mountain Sports, and stopped at this great restaurant called Locavores.  I ordered some delicious fish tacos, while Hannah opted for her favorite, mac and cheese.  Back at the hotel, as we took our layers of clothes off, it had appeared we brought a mini sand dune home with us.  I think we had sand in our hair the remainder of the trip.

Lessons Learned

Doing some research ahead of time can save you a lot of time and aggravation.  Thankfully we took the day before to research about the sled rentals instead of driving straight out to the dunes.