The Great Sand Dunes National Monument, an amazing natural phenomenon, lies just to the northeast of Alamosa, in southern Colorado. Beyond the dunes is the Medano Pass Road, which links the San Luis Valley with the Wet Mountain Valley on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The current pass road is open to travel in both directions, and is more scenic than it is difficult. Access from the south is through the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, while from the north, the road begins about eight miles north of Gardner, Colorado, on state highway 69. There is a Forest Service sign, as well as a Huerfano County sign, at the intersection. The summit lies at 9,950 feet, and the land north of the highway is private in several places, so extra care should be taken to stay on the roadway.
The road crosses a small stream several times. During the spring, the runoff can raise the normally shallow stream to depths that would be over the average vehicle's hood. During these times, expect a strong current and sharply eroded stream banks. Another springtime obstacle is a boggy area shortly before the final climb to the summit. So don't go alone, or without a winch and other recovery tools. Late summer and early fall dry out the area, and during these times the trail becomes much more laid back.
The southern terminus of the Medano Pass Road is adjacent to the campground at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. The road begins just at the entrance to the campground, and is a benign-looking sandy two-track to the left. Stay on the trail, as it is soft and care must be taken to stay afloat over this section. There are few turn-offs or side roads, and the main trail is clear and easy to follow. There are a few primitive campsites in this area, but to use them, prior arrangements must be made with the monument's staff. A couple of miles in, a sign and a gate mark the boundary between the monument and the national forest. Just about here the terrain and vegetation begin changing, with the sand giving way to a rocky mountain floor. Once you're in the national forest, primitive campsites become more plentiful and require no previous arrangements.
Once you reach the summit of Medano Pass you can continue on to the highway and proceed either south to Gardner, Walsenburg, and Interstate 25, or north to Westcliffe and beyond. If you've left a trailer or RV at the monument campground or just to want to head back to the dunes, this is a good place to turn around and retrace your tracks. And speaking of tracks, remember to Tread Lightly!
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The facts presented in this column are, to the best of our knowledge, correct and accurate at the time of publication. However, because of our lengthy lead time, we recommend calling the proper authorities or local experts for confirmation before visiting. Please remember to Tread Lightly!