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HEADED TO THE DUNES?

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Getting there

Great Sand Dunes National Monument lies in southern Colorado, 38 miles northeast of Alamosa. Drive 16 miles east from Alamosa on U.S. 160 to Colorado Route 150, then north 22 miles to the monument. An alternative route from Mosca, north of Alamosa on Colorado Route 17, is to follow Six Mile Lane eastward to its junction with Colorado Route 150, then turn north to the monument. The entrance fee is $4.

When to go

Great Sand Dunes National Monument is open year-round and each season offers something special. Winters are cool (average daytime highs of about 35 degrees F) and perfect for dune hiking since moisture frozen in the sand solidifies footing. Warmer temperatures and the first wildflowers arrive with spring. An elevation of 8,200 feet makes summers pleasant with an average high of only 81 degrees F. Autumn invites with warm days, golden colors and fewer visitors. All are good for dune-hill skiing.

Lodging

Alamosa offers an array of motels including the Alamosa Super 8 (2505 Main Street, (719) 589-6447, from $39) and the Days Inn (224 O'Keefe Parkway, (719) 589-9037, from $42.88). There is no lodging at the monument.

Camping

Pinyon Flats Campground in the monument offers sites on an unreserved basis at $8 per night. Great Sand Dunes Oasis, (719) 378-2222, located just outside the main entrance, has tent sites starting at $9 per night and full RV hookups at $13.50 per night, all with showers included.

Skiing the dunes

Sturdy, cross-country telemark gear is best suited to skiing the sand dunes. No wax is needed, although some fanatics spray furniture polish on their skis to make them slightly faster. People who ski here often say that the sand does little damage to the bottom of skis.

The best slopes are along the Medano Pass Primitive Road where the dunes are tall, steep and close; however, a four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle is needed. Those lacking such transportation can hike a half-mile or less to nearby dunes from either the "Point of No Return" on the Medano Pass Road or the paved viewpoint parking lot just past the Visitor Center.

For more information

Call the Great Sand Dunes National Monument at (719) 378-2312 or write to them at 11500 Highway 150, Mosca, CO 81146.