Things To Know Before You Come
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We want your visit to be safe and worry-free. Here are the basics you need to know:
Animals: Venomous snakes do not exist anywhere in this high elevation park. Rattlesnakes are occasionally seen in lower elevations of the valley, primarily in rocky areas. Scorpions, tarantulas, and gila monsters are not found in this high mountain valley. Deer, pronghorn, and elk are often seen in the park and on park roads. Drive slowly, especially at night, to avoid hitting one of these animals.
Keep Wildlife Wild! Never feed or approach wild animals. Deer, squirrels, and chipmunks may appear tame or hungry, but you should never approach too closely - your safety and their health is at risk! Nature provides plentiful food for wild animals, and they need the nutrients provided by wild food to remain healthy. Some wild animals carry diseases which can be transmitted to humans.
Insects: For a few weeks each mid-summer, tiny piñon flies cluster around campers and hikers, attracted to the carbon dioxide exhaled by humans. While often annoying, they do not bite. In most years, mosquitos and biting gnats ("no-see-ums") are common from early June to early August. Ticks are out in April, May and June in the forests surrounding the dunes. There are no ticks in the dunes. Brown recluse and black widow spiders do exist throughout North America's woodlands and grasslands, but both are secretive and uncommon in the park. No poisonous insects or animals exist in the dunes themselves.
Lightning: The barren dunes are subject to lightning strikes. Thunderstorms with electrical potential are most common in summer months. When you see thunderheads forming or hear thunder, leave the dunes and seek shelter in a building or in your vehicle. A direct lightning bolt may carry 100 million volts of electricity. In comparison, household current runs about 110 to 220 volts.
Hot sand: Surface temperature on the dunes may reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat is generated from the sun shining on the darker volcanic sand grains. Hot sand can blister bare feet - wear shoes when hiking. Take sunscreen, as skin burns easily at this high elevation (8,200). Remember your pet's feet are sensitive to burns, too. Avoid hiking on the dunes mid-day in summer when the sun is shining.
High elevation: The Visitor Center and Campground areas are about 8200' above sea level. The highest elevation in the park is 13,604'. Some people experience headaches, dehydration, fatigue, sleeplessness, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath at this altitude. Drink plenty of liquids, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and move slowly until your body acclimates.
Wind and sand: It's most often calm in this national park, and it's actually less windy here than Chicago. However, when the wind does blow, wind-blown sand can be painful and dangerous. Spring is the windiest season, but winds may arise during storms at any time of the year.
Water quality: Backcountry hikers should treat any surface water by filtering or boiling.
Pets: Pets must be on a leash and attended at all times to prevent encounters with wildlife. Pets succumb faster to heat than humans; sand surface temperatures can become hot during summer days and can burn pet's feet. Never leave a pet in a car on a summer day; temperatures can reach 100+ degrees within minutes.
Did You Know?
The 750' dunes look small from the alpine summit of 13,297' Mt. Herard, part of Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. More...