Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

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Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

Postby JudyJB » Mon Jun 09, 2014 11:33 pm

I had a great day today at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in south-central Colorado. I have also visited White Sand, NM, and was asked how the two differ. So here is my opinion:

White Sands National Monument, NM, is unique because the “sands” are actually not really sand, but gypsum, the stuff they make drywall out of. It is the whitest white you can imagine and amazingly soft on your feet, but not powdery. In fact, they encourage barefoot hiking! You can also use inner tubes or sleds to slide down the dunes. In addition, the sand is constantly blowing and moving. You can drive right through the dunes on a paved road from a visitor center to several picnic areas. They have a snowplow and front-end loader stationed along the road to remove the white sand as it piles up! Also, because the sands move, it is interesting to see the yucca plants which have 10’ stalks because they grew taller and taller as the sand piled up around them and then when it blew away were left lying on the ground because they were unable to support themselves, but still were alive.

As a negative, the white sands are located in the middle of a missile test site, and the park, as well as the road in and out, is sometimes closed due to military testing. In addition, because of the military nature of the area, there are no campgrounds nearby, and you have to drive maybe 25 miles to the nearest town. The day I was there, the place was pretty deserted. However, the white sands are amazing and beautiful, and I would like to go back someday to do the barefoot hiking.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO, is also unique. It is at 8,000 feet and the dunes seem to come out of the nearby snow-capped mountains behind them. The sand is real quartz sand and has a considerable amount of magnetite in it, which you can pick out with a magnet. You drive to a visitor center and then take a road to a parking lot where you can access the dunes. There is a very wide, shallow river between the parking lot and the dunes, so you need to take off your shoes to wade across and then put them back on again to walk the 400’ or so through coarse sand and rocks to the actual dunes, where you can take your shoes off again and climb up to the top if you are energetic enough or just climb one of the shorter dune hills. You can use sleds or tubes on these dunes to slide down if you want to, just as you can in White Sands. These dunes are surrounded by two shallow rivers and are damp if you dig down just a few inches, so they do now blow or move.

Many people just go for the day to lounge around the shallow river, which was amazingly warm even though it is melted snow. At the deepest it is maybe 6” so kids and people just lay in it or bring chairs and dangle their feet in the river. There is also a very scenic nearby (maybe a mile) no-hookups campground. I chose to stay in San Luis State Park which is about 13 miles away because it has electric and water hydrants and dump station, but no activities or shade because it is in the desert, while the national park campground does have some trees. There are also several hiking trails through the various areas of the park, which is situated right against the mountains. While I enjoyed my few hours here, I probably will not go back for a while.
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." Mark Twain.
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Re: Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

Postby Bethers » Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:29 am

Thanks, Judy. I'm one of the oddballs who have been to White Sands twice and wasn't really impressed either time. From your description on Colorado, I'll keep that on my list to see, think it'll be interesting from your description.
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Re: Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

Postby Deeann » Tue Jun 10, 2014 5:53 am

Thanks. I never knew all that. Good pics too.
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Re: Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

Postby avalen » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:45 am

love the pictures Judy, all the white sand looks like snow :lol:
when living in Colorado, I had many friends that visited Great Sand Dunes many times for family outings, now I can see
why. Love the river thing, kind of like the ocean thing, just walking in the wet sand feels good to the bottom of the feet.
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Re: Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

Postby BarbaraRose » Thu Jun 12, 2014 9:40 pm

That is an interesting comparison. Haven't been to either one but would like to see them both. The white sand does look like snow! Would be fun to slide on the dunes! (and not get frostbite!)
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Re: Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

Postby jwillis54 » Mon Aug 25, 2014 12:31 pm

Great Sand Dunes is one of my favorite places in the US. The best time to go is May, following a wet year. A shallow stream runs in front of the dunes and you can walk in it for miles and miles. I walked up the stream on a dirt road, then walked back in the ankle deep water. Its an awesome place. I don't know about hookups, the last time I was there in 2010 I had only my van.


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Re: Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

Postby chalet05 » Mon Aug 25, 2014 1:04 pm

Judy, thanks for the comparison! I have never been to the Great Sand Dunes. My late DH and I did the White Sands, and we loved it! Maybe it was because we laughed so much as we hiked several miles and had to look for the trail markers. Plus, to us, it was very unique. I went barefoot, but some reason, he wore sandals. That is still a very special day in my memory bank.
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Re: Great Sand Dunes, CO, Vs. White Sands, NM

Postby bluepinecones » Mon Aug 25, 2014 7:01 pm

Thanks, Judy.
I've been in the test area at White Sands but never had a chance to explore the area (was there on very short term assignment for a test).
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