NOTE: These questions were answered by Patrick Myers (adjacent - photo is property of the NPS), a park ranger at the Great Sand Dunes.
Thank you for the interesting information, Patrick!
1) What is your personal favorite time of year at the Great Sand Dunes?
My personal favorite time is May - There is usually still lots of
snow on the mountains, the creeks are at full flow, things are greening up,
migratory birds are returning and nesting, and there are no mosquitoes.
However, having been here for twelve years, I see and experience great things each season,
so whatever time of year you visit, you will find something special about it.
2) For the average person, how long of a hike would it be for someone to
hike through the dunes from the main parking lot to the Star Dunes Complex?
I did this once on a search, although we took a winding route since
we were looking for a lost person. We left the main dunes parking area
at 7 a.m., go to the Star Dune
(tallest in the park at 750 feet) around 10 a.m.,
got to the Star Dune Complex on the northwest side of the
dunefield in late afternoon, and then hiked east across the dune field to Indian Grove, on the Medano Road, at dark.
Hiking north-south is not too difficult since you can often walk in
north-south troughs between dunes, but hiking east-west is very difficult, going up and down over dune after dune.
3) Has there ever been much talk of extending the main road past the
campground to go farther around the Great Sand Dunes?
No, the national park service's preferred alternative in the general management
plan doesn't include any additionial paved roads anywhere in the
park. There may be some new access opportunities, but primarily the plan is to manage for wilderness values. The general
management plan is still in process, due to be completed in Summer 2007. This will set the course for the
park for the next 15-20 years.
4) Do you have any funny GSD stories to share?
The funniest things to me are some of the questions visitors ask. My favorites
among these was when a family came in and the Dad asked, "Where can we go to take a dust bath?"
The ranger replied, "What do you mean?"
The Dad said, "We've been camping for a few days and like to take dust baths. Can we do that
in the sand?"
5) Have you ever hiked Mt. Herard? (Adjacent photo) How difficult of a hike is it?
I climbed it in 2004, and it's a good workout and only for people who have
some experience with steepness, high elevation and hiking over 13,000 feet.
It's not a technical at all, and it looks like a gentle slope from this side,
but there are a few steep places above the saddle where you might use your
hands for balance. The view of the dunes, Sangre De Cristo Mountains and valley is incredible. The photo
I took a photo from the summit that's in the foyer of the visitor center on an exhibit panel.
6) Do you have an absolute "favorite spot" in the park and preserve?
If you like mountains and alpine areas, Music Pass is one of the most spetactular places in Colorado, at least in early summer when there's lots
of snow still capping the peaks. I've spent a lot of time in Rocky Mountain National Park,
and the view from Music Pass is equal to any there. Since I grew up in Kansas, I have a
lifelong love of prairie and wetlands,
so my favorite part of the park is on the west side. I'm doing a new powerpoint
slide program in the amphitheater about this newly added
part of the park, since it's the least understood and appreciated part of the park.
The program is called The Wild West Side. This area contains spacious grasslands, wetlands, shore birds, small migrating dunes,
archeological sites, bison, elk and pronghorn, raptors, short-horned lizards, amphibians, panoramic
views of the dunes and mountains, and lots
of open speace with very few people.
Park Ranger - Visitor Services / Interpretation/ Education