By Adam Wells
Colorado is not known for its beautiful bodies of water. It’s a place where rivers like the Rio Grande come to begin their journey to the sea. Most of that water moves on to live a life elsewhere, far from the steep slopes of the Rocky Mountains. There are plenty of excellent hikes up to subalpine lakes but when you’re looking for a change of pace - a bit of creativity and a few reckless friends may be all you need.
This trip began as an exercise in testing limitations. Where could we take our kayaks? How far beyond their intended utility could they reach?
Opting to take advantage of Colorado’s lack of water we decided to test out an odd idea at the Great Sand Dunes National Park: How rapidly could we turn potential energy into kinetic energy if we hiked to the top of a large dune and attempted to kayak back down?
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is roughly four hours south of Denver. You can see the large dunes rippling in the distance miles before you reach the park entrance which makes for a slow and dramatic approach. These heaps of sand were blown hundreds of miles across the Great Plains until they were brought to a halt by the 14,000’ peaks that tower over the valley below. What once was a speck of dust is now a ___’ high PILE of dust.
Once inside the park there is a primitive access road called Medano Pass with remote campsites sparsely scattered along the way. 4x4 vehicles are essential given the sandy washed out sections and 15’ wide river crossings. But if you can reach the top of the pass you'll encounter a secluded fire ring tucked among the pines that served as our home for the evening. We wanted to be off the dunes before the merciless midday sun took its toll on us which meant early to bed, early to rise.
As the sun dawned upon us, we began our steep trek up our oversized sand pile. Have you ever tried running on the beach? There's a very specific sensation you feel when only 60% of your energy goes in the direction you're headed while the other 40% of your energy dissipates beneath your toes. Now put a kayak on your back and go uphill. Despite the climb, we were optimistic about our ultimate goal - sand sledding is encouraged on the park’s homepage!
What was our top speed? How quickly did we descend back into the valley below? Well it's been awhile since my physics courses and the equations escape me. But we went faster than we would have walking. You may be better off renting a sand board from the park and waxing that sucker up if you're in the need for speed. But if it's a good early morning hike with ample entertainment then I've got the spot for you.