Saturday, August 27, 2016

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Thomas and I decided to take a weekend get away to Alamosa, Colorado and visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve as well as the Zapata Falls Recreation Area. This morning we set out around 8:00am and made the 40 minute drive from Alamosa to the Park. We took US 160 and then CO 150 to get to the Dunes. When we arrived there was an electronic road sign announcing that today the National Park Service was celebrating its 100th Anniversary and admission for the day was 'FREE'. As we entered, a Ranger at the fee station welcomed us and gave us a Park Visitor Guide. We continued up the road and made a stop at the Visitor Center. While I got my National Park Cancellation Stamps Thomas looked around at the exhibits. This Park has four Cancellation Stamps out for you to stamp into your Passport Book. So I got those four and then asked the Ranger at the desk if they had any stamps saved in the back. They had three stamps so I took the time to stamp those into my book.

Once I was done stamping I asked the Ranger if they allowed adults to do the Junior Ranger Program. She said 'yes' and handed me a pencil and three booklets (Junior Rangers and Park Explorers, Centennial Junior Ranger Activity Book and Historic Preservation Junior Ranger Activity Book). Most of the National Parks allow adults to participate in the Junior Ranger Program. Some of them have Senior Ranger Programs as well. I first learned about this from a letterboxing friend. She and her husband have been to all the National Park Units in the lower 48 states and she even has a blog about the Junior Ranger Programs that is called Junior Ranger - Senior Friendly Programs.

The Junior Rangers and Park Explorers (specifically for Great Sand Dunes) book is divided into four age groups - Ages 3-6, Ages 7-9, Ages 10-12 and Ages 13 & up. Each age group has an icon (Kangaroo Rat, Bear, Elk and Binoculars) and each age group had to complete a certain number of activities that were marked with the icon for the age group. So I had to complete six activities marked with a binocular - these included things like Dunes Bingo Scavenger Hunt, Be an Artist (draw something you saw out on the dunes), Dunes Exploration (list animals and plants you saw and write a poem about how the dunes were formed), Draw the Arrowhead logo, Habitat Diversity (the different habitats of the Dunes) and Habitat Match (match animals and plants to there habitat).

The Centennial Junior Ranger Activity Book is divided into three age groups - Ages 6 and under, Ages 7-10 and Ages 11 and older. For this book I had to complete 10 activities in this book. This is a special ranger program to celebrate the National Parks 100th anniversary. There was nothing marking which activities I had to do - it just stated that 11 and older had to complete at least 10 activities in the book. Activities included National Park Service Symbols, Keeping a Journal of the day, Past and Present Native Cultures, Write a Cinquain Poem (a five line poem that does not rhyme), Rappin' with a Ranger (interviewing a Ranger about their job) and Protecting Special Places. I ended up 11 activities.

The Historic Preservation Junior Ranger Activity Book is divided into three age groups - Ages 7-9, Ages 10-12 and Ages 13 and up. For this book I had to complete 10 activities. This booklet had to do with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The activities in this book included Word Search, a Maze (matching people to places they helped to protect), Matching National Parks with their locations, Civilian Conservation Corps (write a letter home describing what your job is with the CCC), Unscrambling Park names, Crossword Puzzle and Solve a Code. I was able to 10 of the activities completed.

Now that I had these books I needed to find a place to sit and look at the books to see what I needed to look for and to do to complete the activites. But before this I wanted to get my squished pennies. The penny machine is located in the gift shop so I went there and got that done and then I found a bench and looked at the booklets. You can complete the books by looking around the Visitor Center, taking short hikes and walking out to the dunes.
So once I knew what I was looking for and the things I needed to complete the books Thomas and I drove up to the Dunes Parking and then headed out for a walk to and up the Dunes. The two highest points on the Dunes are High Dune (699 ft.) and Star Dune (755 ft.) and we decided to start walking and see how far we got. To get to the Dunes you have to walk across Medano Creek. Today the creek was almost non existent so it was easy to get across. At first the sand is level and easy enough to walk on. But as you get to the point when the the sand becomes hills it gets much harder to walk. The sand is deep and each time you take a step your foot sinks and slides back a little bit and it seems like you aren't getting anywhere. As we walked (with our sights set on making it up to High Dune) we started to think we may not make it. Our legs were getting a really good workout. But we kept trudging along and eventually (with a lot of rest breaks) we made it up to the top. We also thought that we might want to try to get to Star Dune but once we got to High Dune we just didn't have the energy. So we sat at the top and enjoyed the views for a while and then decided to head back to the car.

At the car we opened the back hatch and sat there and took off our shoes and socks and emptied out the sand. I was shocked how much sand we had collected in our shoes.  We got rid of the sand and put our shoes on and then found a bench to sit on and work on the Junior Ranger Books. I think we spent about an hour working on these. I didn't get everything completed but we decided to go see another part of the park. We drove out on a primitive road (very narrow and very sandy) to a spot called Point of No Return. We didn't get to stop here because the small parking area was packed. So we continued a short distance up the road to find a wider spot to turn around in. After this we headed back to the Visitor Center where I was able to finish my Junior Ranger booklets. When I was done I went and found a Ranger and turned in the booklets. The gentleman that helped me looked through all three books to check what I had done and then he signed my certificates and issued me the Junior Ranger oath. Then he gave me a wooden badge for the Centennial Junior Ranger, a plastic badge and a patch of the park for the Junior Ranger and Park Explorers. He couldn't give me the award for the Historic Preservation booklet because I have to go to a park with an historic building or ruins. I had a good time working on these booklets and I feel I learned much more by doing these programs than I would have with just visiting the park.

This is an incredible park and the dunes are amazing. I am glad we made the time for this trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. It was worth every minute and every mile.

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