Nestled in southern Colorado, North America's tallest dunes rise over 750 feet high against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The wind-shaped dunes glow beneath the rugged backdrop of the mountains. This geologic wonderland, containing over 30 square miles of massive dunes, became a national monument in 1932. With the passage of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act, resources now also include alpine lakes and tundra, six peaks over 13,000' in elevation, ancient spruce and pine forests, large stands of aspen and cottonwood, grasslands, and wetlands--all habitat for diverse wildlife and plant species.
The tallest dunes in North America are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Experience this diversity through hiking, sand sledding, splashing in Medano Creek, wildlife watching, and more! The park and preserve are open 24 hours a day, so plan to also experience night skies and nocturnal wildlife during your visit.
Sandhill cranes are a icon of the San Luis Valley - majestic, large, and wild. One of 250 bird species found in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, they are a delightful aspect of the area’s natural diversity.
Over 20,000 cranes spend part of their spring and fall each year in this valley. After wintering in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, they typically begin to arrive in the San Luis Valley in early February, while winter temperatures still drop below zero degrees F at night. While here, they build up energy by feasting on barley grains in agricultural fields and aquatic invertebrates in wetlands. Cranes mate for life, but each spring they renew their bond through a courtship ritual that includes dancing, bowing, chortling, and throwing tufts of grass in the air. They leave again in late March/early April for the northern U.S. and Canada, where they raise their young. In fall, they begin to arrive back in the San Luis Valley in late September, and stay until early-to-mid-November.
In general, cranes are in agricultural fields during daylight hours, and in wetlands from sunset to sunrise, though they sometimes return to wetlands mid-day for water and rest.