Decades of Dunes

 
Photograph of Great Sand Dunes in 1873
This is the first know photograph taken of Great Sand Dunes area. In the image is a man and a white house/ cabin in the bottom left corner. Jackson, 1873.

NPS Photo

The first known photograph of the Great Sand Dunes area was taken in 1873. For almost 150 years, locals, rangers, and visitors to this landscape have documented their experiences with their cameras. Below are just a few of the images taken.

Do you have photographs of you, your friends, and your family visiting Great Sand Dunes? If so, share your images on social media and use #DecadesOfDunes.
 

The 2020s


Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 2020 - Hidden Dune becomes the tallest dune at Great Sand Dunes and in North America at 742 feet from base to top. Star Dune was wittled down by strong winds, droping its height from 755 feet to 741 feet tall from base to top in July of 2020.
  • 2020 - The COVID- 19 global pandemic reached the county of Alamosa, CO. The park and preserve closed due to public health concerns on April 17th, 2020. Both re-opened on June 3rd, 2020.

“As a former park ranger at the Great Sand Dunes, it gives me no pleasure to recommend closure of one of our national treasures, even for a brief period of time. However, it is my duty to protect the people of Alamosa County during this pandemic, and that includes the staff of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and any potential visitors.” ~ Alamosa County Public Health Director Della Cox-Vieira. April 16, 2020.

 
Park Ranger Melinda McFarland greets visitors from inside the park's entrance station.
Park Ranger Melinda M. greets visitors from inside the park's entrance station in early March of 2020.

NPS / Sydney Stover

 
The starry night sky over the Great Sand Dunes
The starry night sky over the Great Sand Dunes

Photo: Chris Wheeler, 2014

The 2010s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 2014 - The United States Mint released the Great Sand Dunes National Park Quarter on August 25, 2014. It honored the park and marked the 24th issue in the America the Beautiful Quarters series that commemorates national sites in the U.S. and its territories.
  • 2019- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve recieved International Dark-Sky Association Gold-Tier Certification. Viewing the stars above the darkest place in the state of Colorado is now protected for decades to come.
 
A rare visit to the Trujillo Homestead, 2017
A rare visit to the Trujillo Homestead during a special guided tour in 2017.

NPS Photo

 
Visitors enjoying a guided hike to Twin Lakes in 2014
Visitors enjoying a rare guided hike to Twin Lakes in 2014.

NPS Photo

 
Several people stand around a table as the Secretary signs a document.
The Crestone Eagle newspaper clipping from 2004.

Photo Courtesy of The Crestone Eagle

The 2000s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 2000 - On November 22, 2000, Great Sand Dunes Monument became Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve through an Act of Congress (Public Law 106–530) cited as the ‘‘Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000’.
    • Oct. 5th, 2000 - Act considered and passed Senate.
    • Oct. 25, 2020 - Act considered and passed House.
  • 2004 - On September 23, 2004- The Secretary of the Interior (Gale Norton) designated the existing Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve as the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (See 69 F.R. 57355.) after the NPS met the land acquisition requirements laid out in Public Law 106-530.


“Today we dedicate and proclaim a new national park, to forever preserve a landscape sculpted by wind and water, and we introduce what now becomes the largest wildlife refuge in the state of Colorado. This area is a haven for wildlife and a wonder for modern day visitors.” —Gale Norton, Secretary, US Department of the Interior.

 
Park Scientists survey the dunes in May of 2003
Park Scientists survey the dunes in May of 2003

NPS Photo

 
A family makes a sand sculpture of Jabba the Hutt along the Medano Creek bed at the base on the dunes in 2003.
A family makes a sand sculpture of Jabba the Hutt along the Medano Creek bed at the base on the dunes in 2003.

NPS Photo

 

The 1990s

Milestone memories of the decade:

 
Information booth located at the Dunes Parking Lot in the 1990s was staffed by park rangers.
This temporary information booth (located at the Dunes Parking Lot in the 1990s) was staffed by park rangers.

NPS Photo

 

The 1980s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1980
 
Entrance station to Great Sand Dunes National Monument, circa 1980s
Entrance station to Great Sand Dunes National Monument, circa 1980s

NPS Photo

 

The 1970s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1976- On October 20, 1976 the U.S. Congress designated the Great Sand Dunes Wilderness—a wilderness area encompassing 32,643 acres (51 sq mi; 132 km2)- within the monument. This wilderness is the only one in the U.S. that protects a saltbush-greasewood ecosystem and includes the entire dunefield as well as much of the area west of the dunes.
 
Campers enjoying Great Sand Dunes in 1976
Campers enjoying Great Sand Dunes National Monument in 1976.

NPS Photo

 

The 1960s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1960
 

The 1950s

Milestone memories of the decade:

 
Visitors picnic at Great Sand Dunes. Circa 1950.
Visitors picnic at Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Circa 1950s.

NPS Photo

 
Military jeeps drive near the dunes in 1942
U.S. Army Troops gather at Great Sand Dunes National Monument in 1942 for training and equipment testing prior to the Allied invasion of North Africa.

NPS Photo Archive

The 1940s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1942- A unit of the U.S. Army used the Great Sand Dunes as a place for checking how equipment will work in a desert environment- including jeeps and new camouflage patterns. The desert designed camo was being tested for use preceding the Allied invasion of North Africa later that year.
  • 1946 - On March 12, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signs Proclamation No. 2681 and alters the boundaries of Great Sand Dunes National Monument, "for the preservation of the great sand dunes and additional features of scenic, scientific, and educational interests."
 
A race down the dunes in cooking pots in the 1940s.
Three women race down the dunes while sitting in cooking pots in the 1940s.

NPS Photo

 
Linger Family picnic at the dunes in 1935
Linger Family picnic at the dunes in 1935.

NPS Photo

The 1930s

Milestone memories of the decade:


1930- The local Chapter V of the P.E.O. formally decide to seek federal protection for the Great Sand Dunes. The Sand Dunes Committee was founded and Elizabeth Spencer was the lead.

1932- On March 17, 1932, Great Sand Dunes is officially proclaimed a National Monument by authority of President Herbert Hoover. Great Sand Dunes became the 36th National Monument in the National Park system. It was one of 5 approved out of 90 proposals for Monument status in 1932. The original boundaries protected an area of 35,528 acres.

 
People attempt to climb the sand dunes in 1932.
A newspaper clipping shows people attempt to climb the sand dunes in 1932.
 
Park Ranger and visitors, circa 1930s or 40s
Park Ranger and visitors walk along a dry Medano Creek bed, circa 1930s

NPS Photo

 
Frank Wellington is pictured with two horses on the Great Sand Dunes in the 1920s
Frank Wellington is pictured with two horses on the Great Sand Dunes in the 1920s

NPS Archive Photo

The 1920s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1925 - Locals begin the efforts to have the Great Sand Dunes federally protected.
  • 1929- the Volcanic Mining Company built a gold mining mill on the banks of the Medano Creek.

 
Mining shake on the Medano Creek in the 1920s
Mining shack on the Medano Creek in the 1920s

NPS Photo

 

The 1910s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1910 -
 

The 1900s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1900 -
 
Three women sit under a tree. All look towards the camera and pose.
Julia, Mary, and Ruth sit under a tree near the Great Sand Dunes where their families homesteaded in 1907.

NPS Photo

 

The 1890s


Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1890 -

 
Julia Virginia Herard stands near her family's homestead near the Great Sand Dunes in 1892.
Julia Virginia Herard stands near her family's homestead near the Great Sand Dunes in 1892.

NPS Photo

 
Sofia Trujillo
Sofia Trujillo was adopted into the Teofilo and Maria Trujillo family, eventually marrying their son Pedro in 1885.

Photo Courtesy of the Trujillo family

1880s

Milestone memories of the decade:

  • 1885 - Sofia Trujillo was adopted into the Teofilo and Maria Trujillo family, eventually marrying their son Pedro in 1885. It was a volatile era, with significant cultural tension and occasional violence between the Ute Tribe, Anglo cattle ranchers, and Hispanic sheepherders. In the midst of these threats, Sofia and Pedro raised 16 children and managed their isolated homestead west of the dunes. A complex chain of events culminated in Teofilo's homestead being burned down by a few Anglo ranchers, and much of the Trujillo family moved to the southern part of the valley. Not long after, the Linger family acquired most of the ranching property near the dunes, and reached out to remaining Trujillo family members, offering them friendship and jobs in an era when it was not the norm. Sofia lived until 1950, and witnessed some of this healing between cultures.
 
Buffalo Soldier
Buffalo Soldiers patrolled the Great Sand Dunes region from 1876-1879. In this photo, Oscar Clark of the Buffalo Soldier Association of Wichita portrays an 1870s soldier by a tent during a living history program at Great Sand Dunes in the 2010s.

NPS/ Patrick Myers

1870s

Milestone memories of the decades:

  • 1876- Buffalo Soldiers who patrolled the Great Sand Dunes region from 1876-1879, courageously working to protect both settlers and tribes during a volatile era. Based at nearby Fort Garland, the 9th Cavalry once even evicted white setters who had encroached on recognized Ute tribal lands.
 
Sketch a canoe at the base of the dunes in 1872 by Charles Samuel Richardson
Sketch of a canoe at the base of the dunes in 1872 by Charles Samuel Richardson

NPS Photo

Last updated: March 16, 2021

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11999 State Highway 150

Mosca , CO 81146

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