As you drive from Santa Fe, NM, on Highway 285 north to the Colorado border, the scenery changes vastly and rapidly. The two hour drive is well worth it if you have an extended stay in Santa Fe – this is truly one of the most epic areas in the U.S. While you’re way there, desert canyons with the brightest whites and reds, seemingly painted, are traded for views of high desert sage brush stretching in every direction. Yet again, you see pine trees racing by and watch the scenery change into a forest on rolling hills. And again, the scenery finds another form, it’s final, entering the high plains, with vast open spaces and nothing but grass set against stark mountains in the distance. The views stretch for miles, and in fact you can see for at least 100 miles, all the way to Mount Herard in the Sangre De Cristo mountain range hovering above your final destination.
Approaching the dunes, you would never know that they are there, as they’re tucked away behind a mountain just due north of the road. As you near them, you’ll come around a corner and the entirety of the dunes with suddenly be unveiled. The sight is almost magical and seems completely out of place. As you drive alongside them, it should dawn on you how massive this area really is. Standing outside the back of the visitors centre you can get a great view of the dunes against the mountains, and read some informative diagrams while you are at it. Grab a nice postcard to send to friends or family inside, as they have some really nice ones.
The unfortunate part of this story is that we went at the wrong time of year altogether. Arriving in March, or any time before May, will land you in some harsh windy weather. When I mean harsh, I mean to say that we could not even make it to the top of the dunes, as when we stepped up onto the ridge leading to High Dune, we got mouths full of sand from what felt like hundred mile per hour sandblasting winds. We thought we would be blown away! Due to this fact, I would recommend going during the summer months, or later during the year. Another great thing we missed out on is sandboarding. Just like surfing, you take a board and ride the waves – except here, you’re going down epic waves of sand instead.
This is one of my favourite destinations, and is arguably a must-visit place if you have enough time in the surrounding areas, such as Pagosa Springs or Santa Fe.