When Chris Watts treated Nichol Kessinger to a romantic camping trip, he drove more than four hours south to a spectacular National Park sporting America’s tallest sand dunes. From there the couple drove another 37 minutes south to the scenic elevated camping ground at Zapata Falls.

Fullscreen capture 20181129 092727

Fullscreen capture 20181129 092353According to Wikipedia:

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an American national park that conserves an area of large sand dunes up to 750 feet (229 m) tall on the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley…The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North AmericaThe dunes cover an area of about 30 sq mi (78 km2) and are estimated to contain over 5 billion cubic meters of sand.

Sediments from the surrounding mountains filled the valley over geologic time periods. After lakes within the valley receded, exposed sand was blown by the predominant southwest winds toward the Sangre de Cristos, eventually forming the dunefield over an estimated tens of thousands of years. The four primary components of the Great Sand Dunes system are the mountain watershed, the dunefield, the sand sheet, and the sabkhaEcosystems within the mountain watershed include alpine tundrasubalpine forestsmontane woodlands, and riparian zones.

Evidence of human habitation in the San Luis Valley dates back about 11,000 years. The first historic peoples to inhabit the area were the Southern Ute Tribe, while Apaches and Navajo also have cultural connections in the dunes area. In the late 17th centuryDon Diego de Vargas—a Spanish governor of Santa Fe de Nuevo México—became the first European on record to enter the San Luis Valley. Juan Bautista de AnzaZebulon PikeJohn C. Frémont, and John Gunnison all travelled through and explored parts of the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. The explorers were soon followed by settlers who ranched, farmed and mined in the valley starting in the late 19th century. The park was first established as a national monument in 1932 to protect it from gold mining and the potential of a concrete manufacturing business.

Fullscreen capture 20181129 092855Fullscreen capture 20181129 092916

Below, Zapata Falls Campground.

Fullscreen capture 20181129 094310