Great Sand Dunes National Park
Traveling from southeast to northwest, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is a short drive from Alamosa, where most groups overnight if taking either the Cumbres & Toltec or Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. Here in the San Luis Valley are some 30 square miles of towering sand dunes, some as high as 750 feet, trapped at the base of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains by northeasterly winds.
Nature trails offer the opportunity to explore this fascinating, ever-changing sandscape or climb the towering dunes themselves. Groups seeking an evening activity are also sure to appreciate the nightly, ranger-conducted programs in the amphitheatre during the summer months. In my humble opinion, only White Sands National Monument in New Mexico offers an equally impressive dune experience in North America.
Second on our brief tour of the area is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, northeast of Montrose. Other easy to reach attractions in the area include picturesque Ouray, the historic Silverton narrow-gauge train to Durango, and the incredible San Juan Skyway scenic drive through Telluride to Cortez, which is especially magnificent during fall foliage season.
Through the ages, the winding Gunnison River has cut through layers of crystalline, dark-colored rocks (largely Precambrian gneiss, schists and granites) to create an incredible, 53-mile-long canyon. Reaching a maximum depth of 2,722 feet at Warner Point, the canyon’s narrowest width is 1,100 feet at the rim, but only 40 feet at the river. Visitors experience truly awe-inspiring vistas from a succession of viewpoints along the South Rim Drive. Although not as massive as Arizona’s Grand Canyon, no one encountering this awesome Colorado gorge is likely to come away unimpressed or disappointed.