We walk along the ridge of giant sand dunes as narrow as a rain gutter. Our breaths are labored. Our steps, like lead. We watch torrents of sand tumble down either side of the ridgeline, singing softly as they go. In the distance, midnight-colored clouds cast an ominous shadow over the 13,000-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

It's late August - a time of year that most weekend warriors are heading back to school or work, their gear stowed away while they plot and plan for the next "big trip." We're here because of the road trip, this is our last leg, and we couldn't imagine a more pristine place to celebrate the National Park Service's Centennial. 

Ahead, dunes rise and fall like grainy waves frozen in time. Behind them, the mountains, freshly coated with snow, poke at the sky. The trick, here, is learning to distribute your weight evenly across your foot, we learned. No digging your toe or heel in as you climb. At times we glance back at the ripples and peaks of the dunes below to gauge how far we've come and, every so often, we use this as an excuse to catch our breath.

Who would've thought that North America's tallest sand dunes are tucked away in the mountains of Colorado? Certainly not us. But here they are. And they're magical. 

 

 

 

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