Connor and I made an impromptu decision to meet at Great Sand Dunes National Park, which is roughly halfway between Santa Fe, where he was leading a cycling trip, and Boulder, where I was busy packing up my apartment for the summer. I’d been to the dunes when I was thirteen on a family cross-country road trip. I don’t remember climbing to the top of them, but I remember running around with my brother, and I remember being amazed by their size as we drove toward them. They were so much larger than the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge in North Carolina, which we would visit during beach vacations at the Outer Banks.
North America’s tallest dunes, at heights over 750 feet, the Great Sand Dunes were formed by erosion of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains over millennia. We climbed to the top of the dunes to discover a view of the dunefield, which stretches over thirty square miles, with a ring of mountains in the distance.
Before we could climb, though, we had to cross an icy streambed; streams like this are one of the sources of erosion as they carry meltwater down from the mountains. From there, the soft sand felt warm on our cold feet. The trek was steep and the sky was hazy, but we were almost completely alone, and the wind had washed away previous visitors’ footprints.
We sat in the sand at the top of the dunes until the sky threatened rain, then ran down the soft slopes just as it began to drizzle.