Saturday, August 24, 2002
Steamboat Springs Even in a drought year, adventurers in Colorado can be assured of the opportunity to go cross country skiing and snowshoeing all 12 months of the year. Snowboarding is also a possibility. That is, as long as you don't mind getting sand in your shoes.
Great Sand Dunes National Monument, north of Alamosa, is among the most exotic locations you'll ever strap on skis or snowshoes.
In fact, those are the most effective ways to cover ground on the dunes, which reach more than 700 feet above the floor of the San Luis Valley.
The dunes, which are scheduled to attain full National Monument status next year, are about a 4-hour drive from Steamboat Springs and well worth it. August, with colorful sunflowers blooming in the sand, is prime time.
This is a camping destination that offers ample challenges for adults, but also has natural attractions that will entertain young families.
Medano Creek flows at the base of the dunes. The stream offers unlimited opportunities for children to splash and build sand castles. The creek also embodies a rare natural phenomenon. As the current pushes the sand along, it builds small dams, which hold the water back until they break, launching wavelets down the creek.
The real attraction is the dunes themselves and the chance to explore spiny ridges and deep bowls. Sand Dune veterans will rise early to go exploring before the sand becomes hot and the wind kicks up the grit.
There is limited car camping within the monument on a first-come, first-served basis at Pinyon Flats campground. Those 88 campsites offer the quickest access to the dunes and the creek.
But campers who can't get a spot in the monument will enjoy the commercial sites at Great Sand Dunes Oasis Campground. The campsites offer the shade of pinon and juniper trees. They cost $12 a night and offer the luxury of a shower. There are also small cabins available for $33 a night.
The monument is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The visitor center is open daily, but closed on winter holidays. Camping in the monument is $10 a night. Admission to the monument is $3 for people over the age of 17, and an annual pass is just $10.
From Steamboat, Great Sand Dunes National Monument is best reached by driving south on U.S. 40 and Colo. 9 to Silverthorne. From there, drive west on Interstate 70 to the Copper Mountain Exit. Follow Colo. 91 south over Fremont Pass to Leadville.
Continue south on U.S. 24 over Poncha Pass to Colorado 17 and finally to a left turn on County Six Mile Lane, which leads to the monument.