A Sunrise Hike In The Great Sand Dunes

Tragedy In The Desert

I slammed on my brakes, feeling a new shape go bump beneath my car tires, on a road that was completely flat.

“NoooOOOOOO,” I wailed as a flattened bunny appeared in my rearview mirror.

Tragedy struck in the desert and it wasn’t even four in the morning yet. Now, I suppose you’re wondering what I’m doing out on these isolated roads in complete darkness in the middle of nowhere at the devil’s hour, but, trust me, it was all in good nature (literally). The idea was to catch the sunrise in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Navigating under black skies was a concept of its own, however, seeing as there was only one road out here, I had faith that I could pull this mission off before the sun beat me to it. 

Finding The Dunes

Once I reached a sign blaring the words, “DUNES,” I put my car into park and began grabbing my equipment. After loading up my tripod, my drone and my camera bag itself onto my back, I threw on a blanket for good measure, as it was much chillier than I’d expected it to be in a land full of sand. The map at the head of the trail informed me that it was a three mile trek to the top of the dunes and seeing a bit of light already lining a vague shape of the mountains in the distance behind me, I began to fast walk. However, fast walking through sand was not as efficient as I had hoped. 

So, there I was, lugging thirty pounds of equipment through a freezing desert without any actual trail in complete darkness. After about half of a mile, I began shedding layers as the sand was so difficult to maneuver through that I was getting a workout in. Thinking of all of the snakes and scorpions or whatever dangerous creatures lived in the desert, I began to pray I was the only one at the outdoor gym this morning.

The Mirage in the Great Sand Dunes

With my only flashlight being the one that came with my outdated iPhone, I truly could not see more than two feet in front of me. After a while, I began to see what I can only explain as a mirage. Thinking there were other people taking the same hike in front of me, I began to speed up to join them, only to realize there was nobody there once I got closer. 

Now reaching the first dune itself rather than the flat sand I’d been hiking through so far, the uphill battle had truly begun. Trying to find footing without sliding right back down the hill was a feat in itself. Going one step forward and two steps back got real old, real quick, but I’d eventually made it to the top…only to realize that I was on my way back down the other side of the hill.

This dune was nothing but a fence line to make you earn your way to the boasted views. Battle after battle came until I decided the war was over. I spread my blanket out across the sand and waited for the sun to catch up, partially because I wanted to see the landscape and partially because I needed to feel the warmth. 

The Sun Rise in Great Sand Dunes National Park

As the globe got closer to rising, more and more brave souls began to take the journey over these unforgiving dunes. Couples were basking in the views, solo adventurers were getting their photography shots in and families were surfing down the sandy slopes. Peak after peak began to shimmer with a scarlet glow as the sun took turns spreading its light across the park until finally, I could see just how far I’d come. Monstrous dunes towered around me leaving no trace of any visitors except for a few lone footprints and even those would be blown away come nightfall.

It was insane to think that I had no idea any of these mountains were here, even as I was right on top of them while hiking before the sun revealed its beauty. It was completely and utterly, pure magic. I lied there on that single blanket on top of the biggest pile of sand I’d ever come across watching the world paint itself until I couldn’t take the cold any longer.

Trudging back to the parking lot, I dumped out my combat boots, leaving my own mini dunes on the blacktop. Driving away, I glanced up at my rearview, seeing both the Great Sand Dunes and the Parking Lot Sand Dunes (created by yours truly) in one look. Life truly does imitate art.

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