Total Pageviews

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Great Sand Dunes National Park: Kinky Dunes and Funky Surges

     Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is home to breath-taking 750-foot tall sand dunes, the tallest sand dunes in North America.




       The ever-changing dune field is nestled up against a kink in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range just east of the dunes and covers over 30 square miles.





      It is also home to the pulsing or surging Medano Creek which flows in the spring. The surge feature is a unique hydrologic phenomenon seen in this two-minute video. The National Park Service describes the connection between water, sand, and slope causing the surging flow as being akin to ocean waves. This excellent link on surge features describes Medano Creek and other surface creeks and the underlying water table as similar to the circulatory system of the human body.



     The 150,000 acre dune field is also home to the Tiger beetle, found only at the Great Sand Dunes.



         The San Luis Valley graben that contains the park (and the adjacent horst that includes Mt. Zwischen) is one of the northernmost reaches of extensional Basin and Range  that dominates the state of Nevada. The San Juan mountains border the graben to the west.




      In 1807, Zebulon Pike described the dunes, "Their appearance was exactly that of a sea in a storm (except as to color), not the least sign of vegetation existing thereon."



      Streams and creeks flowing out of the San Juan Mountains to the west over millennia carried gravel and sand into shallow lakes or sabkhas (salt flats) in the San Luis Valley. 




       During drought periods, these lakes dried, releasing the sand particles to the action of the wind. Strong prevailing southwesterly winds carry the tiny grains toward the Sangre de Cristos, piling them up against the foothills. 



      Yes, in the name of science and PEOTS, Maizie and I will be traveling southward this week to report on the state of the dunes. (Yes, we sacrifice for this blog!)



     Have you been to the Great Sand Dunes? Before or after 2004 when it was elevated from National Monument to National Park status?

From the sand dunes ocean state,
Steph


Cattle guard sign just south of the Great Sand dunes (Everything is pristine and quiet at the dunes. . .)


68 comments:

  1. Spectacular! Have a great visit. I would love to go some day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's Mountain Day at Smith College! Maybe you should go today!

      Delete
  2. My wife and I have not yet had a chance to visit on our on-going National Park tour, but it is on our list. Just a couple weeks to our Arches visit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah! Arches and Great Sand Dunes are both on this list of top ten NPs from Earth Photos (great images of the textures and colors of our NP). I have been to 8/10 except for the two in TN and AL (the only two states I have yet to visit). And two states whose abbreviations are chemical elements, ironicly.

      Sound studies (sound, sound studies?) show that Great Sand Dunes is our quietest NP.

      Delete
  3. Looks interesting. Stark, like pretty much the whole Colorado plateau, from what I gathered last week. I have a hard time imagining hiking trails through dunes; how easy is it to find your way? I've always associated the Sangre de Cristo range with New Mexico, i.e., the Trinity site, but I guess they run up into Colorado, too.

    Had a great time hiking in Utah. No lack of red rocks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you had a great time hiking in Utah. Would enjoy hearing more about the trails you hiked, how many folks were around, weather, etc. . .

      Yes, the "Blood of Christ" mountains extend into CO. There are no trails on the dunes as the shifting sands change daily. But the view from atop the dunes is amazing. A fellow Smithie and I were the only ones there on an October Day in the early '80's. Jumping gleefully down the dunes is required ;-).

      There are hiking trails in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just to the east. One access road crosses Medano Creek several times before you get to the trailhead. Will report back next week!

      Delete
    2. I also remember the sound of sand on the move and nothing else. . .

      Delete
    3. Day 1: fly into Las Vegas, rent car, drive to hotel outside Zion, hike Pa'rus Trail, orientation film at the Human History Museum.
      Day 2: Zion Canyon tour w ranger (you need to do a ranger-led tour, among other activities, to earn your Junior Ranger badge, which my wife insists on). Riverside Walk into the Narrows (barefoot, since we didn't bring water shoes). Weeping Rock Trail, Grotto Trail. Lunch in the Lodge. Emerald Pool Trails (Lower, Middle, Upper), Kayenta Trail, Grotto Trail again to the Lodge. Watchman Trail at sunset.
      Day 3: Chicken out of Observation Point trail, temporarily. Drive to Kolob Canyon area. Timber Creek Overlook trail, Taylor Creek Trail. Get pep talk from canyoneer in hotel on Observation Point trail.
      Day 4: Observation Point via East Rim Trail. Canyon Overlook Trail. Drive past Bryce to hotel in Cannonville.
      Day 5: Drive to Rainbow Point, hike Bristlecone Loop. Drive to Lodge, stopping at all the overlooks on the way. Hile Queen's Garden / Navajo Loop Trail. Rim Walk with ranger (see above) at sunset.
      Day 6: Drive to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Hike Panorama Trail, trail to Shakespeare Arch. After lunch, drive to Willis Creek, in Grand Staircase / Escalante National Monument, hike through slot canyon.
      Day 7: Hike Fairyland Loop Trail at Bryce.
      Day 8: Back to Vegas, drive down The Strip, park at Bellagio just in time to see the Dancing Fountains, back to the airport and home.

      Weather was great. A bit hot some afternoons, chilly in early morning. Crowds weren't bad at all, except at the more touristy tram stops and overlooks.

      Delete
    4. Sounds like a great trip! Glad you got your Junior Ranger badges. ;-)

      Kodachrome Basin SP is aptly named, yes?

      How was hiking the slot canyon in Escalante? And how was the Observation Point Trail? I've not hiked that yet.

      Delete
    5. I thought Observation Point was the high point of the whole trip (my wife preferred the hoodoos at Bryce). The trail was wide enough that the steep dropoffs didn't send my acrophobia over the edge, so to speak. Includes a beautiful (hanging) slot canyon of its own. Encountered a flock of 8 or so big-horn sheep about 2/3 of the way up. At the top, you look down on Angels Landing across the river, with an unbeatable view of the entire canyon. The only regrettable part was the annoying chipmunks aggressively trying to steal our lunch -- they'd been well trained by earlier hikers who ignored the "Don't Feed the Wildlife" signs.

      The Willis Creek canyon was beautiful, though I was always thinking of last month's disasters. (There was no rain in the forecast, of course.) I was glad my wife had us rent an SUV instead of the sedan I'd originally booked, as the access involved 6 miles of rutted dirt road. On the return drive, we had to wait a few minute for a herd of cattle to mosey across the road.

      Delete
    6. Observation Point Trail looks like quite a hike with lots of elevation gain. And you can see Angel's Landing (with acrophobia I definitely would not hike that trail). Could you see the narrowest part of the Angel's Landing trail across the valley?

      Yes, I am sure the slot canyon in Escalante was a little unnerving, no matter how blue the skies.

      Sheep and cows, what more could you ask for?

      Delete
    7. Yeah, 2200 feet of up on that trail. But definitely worth it.

      What more could I ask for? Mountain lions. But, none showed up. At least I missed the pronghorn that leaped across the road right in front of me one evening near Bryce. And the mule deer bucks that tried the same in the park.

      Delete
  4. Is this a Plutonic solar eclipse, or is the sun just out of the frame at the top right?

    With blue skies and water ice (solid water?), I say we should vote it back into the solar system.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Replies
    1. Simply magnificent. Black and white "red" sandstone is strangely even more texturedly beautiful. Thanks!

      Delete
  6. Replies
    1. Steph,
      Yeah, Like Wow, Wipeout!

      I think I remember reading about tiger beetles in this magazine.

      Your mention of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range made me muse, “If Catholic priests used sangria wine as their altar wine, would the only transubstantiation necessary be bread-becoming-Christ’s body?”

      jan,
      You wrote: “I thought Observation Point was the high point of the whole trip (my wife preferred the hoodoos at Bryce).” Pun intended?
      But I am in agreement with your wife regarding the hoodoos.

      LegoTheOnlyHikingIEverDidWasHitchhiking

      Delete
    2. Lego, hoodoo de doo doo >>> back to poop. . .

      A bird pooped on my head WHILST I WAS SWIMMING today. What are the odds of that happening?!

      Delete
    3. Hoodoo, hoodoo you think you're fooling?

      (Actually, Rainbow Point at Bryce Canyon is considerably higher.)

      It occurred to me that, with the nice, bright colors at Kodachrome Basin, we were having an all-Paul Simon week. We drove over a bridge over troubled waters that swept away several people a few weeks before. After driving back to Las Vegas, we were homeward bound. Etc.

      Delete
    4. All Paul Simon all the time. . .

      Still a bit indignant about that mid-lap deposit!

      Delete
    5. I'd offer you a piece of toilet paper, but that bird must be miles away by now.

      Delete
    6. Ha! You are not helping. . .

      How does it take aim and let go right at that moment?!

      Delete
    7. Great 7:08 PM post, jan. Your first sentence alludes to Paul Simon's "Love's Me Like A Rock". S&G sang "I Am A Rock". And... this excellent PEOTS blog is already crawling with rocks!

      LegoAndThen,OfCourse,ThereIsGorge-ousSofterRock

      Delete
    8. See, Lego, rock is everywhere, even at this most quiet national park!

      Delete
    9. What an exquisite image, jan!

      Delete
  7. I mentioned last month that I picked up a copy of The Martian to read on the plane. Before last week's flight, I decided not to trust to getting lucky at Hudson News, so I went to the library and got a copy of Margaret Atwood's recent story collection, Stone Mattresses. Continuing reading it last night, I came to the title story, the name of which refers to, of all things, stromatolites. You asked for amateur haiku or limericks, but here's a professional poet with a whole book! (And you never mentioned their use as a murder weapon....)

    I liked The Handmaid's Tale, and the Oryx and Crake series. These stories are okay, if you don't mind her going on about her issues with men. I do admit to getting a little creeped out by the coincidence of running into stromatolites twice in one week, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooh, stone mattresses as stromatolites--fabulous! Murder weapon? Stoning someone to death?

      I think it's very cool you ran across stromatolites twice in one week! I remember encountering them in geology 101 and coming back to lunch in Lamont house --"Cheese Strata."

      Delete
    2. Just read "Stone Mattress" in "The New Yorker." Atwood is a marvelous at details (especially ironic given the ending) and, yes, a bit rough on men. Just be glad your name isn't Bob!

      "Death by stromatolite!" Having the stromatolite sample brought on ship to be covered with fingerprints was inspired.

      I thought about stone mattresses for that week's PEOTS title but decided they look much more like giant cauliflowers to me. Hmmmm. . .wonder if the ancient Greeks had cauliflower? Cauliflowerolite? ;-)

      Delete
    3. Oops, from Latin, not Greek. . .

      Delete
    4. Let she who is without stone cast the first shadowy stromatolite!

      LegoJustAnotherFlintstoneFromBedrock

      Delete
    5. Yuck!

      Did you read Stone Mattress, Lego? Quite compelling!

      Delete
  8. Oh, and there was what looked like lots of cryptobiotic crust to be seen at Kodachrome Basin State Park. They did have displays warning about disturbing it at the visitor center.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you saw cryptobiotic crust, jan. No stromatolites except in your book?

      Delete
  9. Replies
    1. You and Maizie will have to wave when you get in front of the camera.

      Delete
    2. Maizie and I are waving now. (Well, I am.)

      Delete
    3. I'm not seeing any change in the image.

      Delete
    4. Hmmmm, the beautiful, hands-on visitor center opens at 9. Perhaps they don't turn it on til then.

      Maizie and I are headed to Zapata Falls Recreation area, about 10 miles south of GSD. Gorgeous view of the dunes and a splendid, off-the beaten path campground.

      When mom and I come back in the spring we may stay at the Nature Conservancy's Medano Zapata Ranch. It's a pristine, sweet, gentle inn and they open up reservations to one night stays a month out. A bit pricey but the stay includes three meals with bison and other ranch-raised offerings. . .

      OK, off to do more research.

      Such a beautiful day. . .

      Delete
    5. Looks like they take one still frame per minute, at 31 seconds past the top of the minute, per the info at the top left corner of the frame. I guess bandwidth is scarce in the boonies.

      Delete
    6. Isn't there a Zapato de Caballo Falls on the Canada/U.S. border?

      Delete
    7. Just graben an opportunity to horst around a bit.

      Delete
    8. Hahaha, Horseshoe Falls, Paul! Up and down, up and down--extending whenever possible.

      Roaming charges--so good, jan!

      Delete
  10. A question from my trip for you Westerners: what is it about cattle crossing signs that draws so much gunfire?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. http://www.hark.com/clips/pxgwwftfrn-bullet-hits-metal-surface

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Paul.

      Also there's this about bullet holes in Cattle and other animal signs. See the part after *** bullet *** point 4 that begins " Finally. . ."

      Delete
    3. "Great Sand Dunes, part II," is coming up later today.

      As a teaser, check out the cattle crossing sign just before you get to the park (posted above).

      It was 85 degrees today!

      Delete
    4. I guess it's a new sign. Or Coloradans are worse shots than Utahans.

      Delete
    5. Or Coloradoans are not as into shooting signs. . .

      Delete
  11. Replies
    1. Just saw The Martian. I'm really glad I saw Bryce and Zion last week. Mars sure does look a lot like Utah.

      Delete
    2. A lot of great stuff got left on the cutting room floor. I'm afraid Randall Munroe may be disappointed. (Hover over the cartoon to see his appreciation of a deleted scene.) But they did a pretty good job with what they left in.

      My wife thought it was too long, and lacked interpersonal conflict, but she's still recovering from having seen Gravity. She says I'm like our 7-year old niece, who was upset by scenes missing from the first Harry Potter firm, and suggested that moviegoers should have been given a video of the complete story to take home.

      Delete
    3. ... Harry Potter film...

      Delete
    4. Thanks for scoop, jan.

      The trailer looks interesting and it does look like Utah!

      Editing is a very underrated art.

      Delete
    5. ...Tell me about it!

      LegoInDireNeedOfAPuzzleBlogEditor!

      Delete
    6. Trying to shoot the moon by shooting the sun?

      Delete
  12. Language is more fashion than science, and matters of usage, spelling, and pronunciation tend to wander around like hemlines.

    ---Bill Bryson, author (b. 1951)--

    ReplyDelete
  13. Working title for this week's PEOTS:

    From "The Sound of Silence" to "Slip Sliding Away:" the Great Sand Dunes and the Music of Paul Simon.

    <<< And a Maizie at the dunes preview. . .

    ReplyDelete
  14. New post is up! New research including LiDAR at the Great Sand Dunes is included . . .

    Enjoy the Maizie images :-)!

    ReplyDelete