Will and I explored the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. This park was located across the river in New Hampshire, but was only about a half hour drive from our campground in Vermont.
Saint-Gaudens was a sculptor and the grounds contained information about his pieces and life. The house was closed, but the other buildings were open. I would not recommend this one for younger kids, as it was a lot of reading and not really interactive. There were some trails, including the Ravine Trail (which the Ranger told us was really more of a moderate path). However, since there was a heat advisory out (92℉), we did not do that trail.
The park also had a phone audio tour available, which was a nice feature to learn a little more about the pieces shown. Will completed the Junior Ranger program there, and they had a neat looking badge.
TICKETS: $10/adults, children 15 and under free. Can use America The Beautiful Pass. COVID Restrictions: masks required, House closed
HOURS: May 29-October 31 (9am-4pm)
TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
*Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Today we ventured into the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was about a 3 hour drive each way. The one thing this trip has taught us is not to be afraid of driving each day. We very rarely made trips longer than 1.5 hours at home. We saw a few animals in the campground this morning, which is always fun!
The park offers some hiking, a campground, the dunes, and a creek. The creek is usually dry in August, from what we were told. You can sled down the sand dunes, but the park claims you need a specialized board. Apparently snow sled and cardboard will not work well. There are a few stores to rent these boards from in the towns of Alamosa (which was not on our drive in), Hooper, and Blanca. We drove through Blanca and didn’t see any signs for board rentals. It was the 2nd closest rental to the park entrance, so we were hoping we wouldn’t miss the last store. The other rental is at a store right outside the park entrance. The store is called Oasis and it is open seasonally. They offer sand boards (stand up kind like snow boards) and sand sleds. Rental is $20/day/board and you need to return it by 6:00pm. They also provide you with a thing of wax for the bottom of your board.
There was quite a line to rent the boards. The store’s interior was closed, so everything was rented/ordered from the outdoor windows. The line moved slowly, but surely. It took awhile because there was a rental form to fill out, the deposit to sign, rental fee, and then the instructions. In the store’s parking lot, they had three portalets and a 2 pump gas station (no diesel). The store also offered ice, ice cream (cones and sandwiches), some hot food items, and convenience items (postcards, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.). There were not any picnic benches around though. (TIP: Stop and use the portalets here. The Visitor Center is closed due to COVID and there could be a long wait at the park.)
The sky, both on the drive in and at the park, was a little hazy due to smoke from wildfires. The parking lot closest to the dunes was packed! Luckily, right when we got to the end of our first lap, we found a spot. I was driving home, so I changed into my sandals since I didn’t want sand stuck in my shoe for the whole drive home (big mistake). Everyone else stayed in gym shoes and left their Crocs for later. There is about 1/4-1/2 mile walk through sand to get to the dune area. It would have been great if there was a boardwalk there. Although this might not work well since the Ute Native Americans called this area “sowapopheuveha”* or, the land that moves back and forth. With the sand blowing around it might just cover the boardwalk.
The book stated the tallest sand dune was “750 feet and 3.8 miles (one way) difficult trudge to the top.”* So, we weren’t doing that! We stayed towards the front of the dunes, the smaller ones. It is quite the work-out to climb up the dunes to slide back down. Ben and the boys tried the sand board, but I stuck to the sand sled. The boys did pretty well for their first experience on a stand up board. Everyone had a few tumbles in the sand, but had fun sledding down the dunes!
I had secured my keys and ID in a zipper pocket, but thought on my last run I could video the trip down the dune. Dumb idea. I took the biggest tumble so far and my phone got buried in the sand. Luckily I found it pretty quickly. I would recommend using some sort of cord or something that is attached to both your phone and you, if you want to have it out.
Eventually we were tired and hungry, and began our journey back to the truck. At the parking lot we rinsed off at the outdoor showers. There were two shower poles, each had nozzles at 3 different heights. We ate our picnic lunch in the truck. We were facing the dunes, so we had a nice view. There is a picnic area down the street, but not at the dunes parking lot we were in. We could also people watch. Ben stated everyone coming in looked excited and happy (think Disney world), but coming out everyone looked exhausted and were dragging. We were definitely tired, but it was a good experience.
The park cautions that the sand can get up to 150 degrees F. I don’t think it was quite that warm when we were there, but it definitely got very hot. My sandals were not the right choice, as the sand kept sliding in or covering my feet as we walked. In the beginning, the temperatures were fine. However, on the walk back, I had to take multiple breaks to keep my feet out of the sand and stood on a board. By the time we got back, the sides of my feet and under my big toes were red and I had a couple of blisters. I’m not sure if the blisters were simply from sand rubbing between my feet and sandals, or from minor burns from the hot sand. Even after the cool water from the outdoor shower and sitting in the truck without shoes on, my feet were still red. I ended up putting aloe on them before bed, but they were still sensitive the next day (and a little the day after that too). I may have lightly burned them. If you go in the summer, I would recommend wearing closed toe shoes (we saw someone wearing boots) so your gym shoes are not saturated with sand. If you really want to wear sandals, I would maybe wear socks with them (and socks with Crocs is honestly one of my biggest no-no’s…but guys, the sand burns!).
After lunch, we drove around. The park isn’t very large in terms of a road driving through it. There was a primitive road and a campground. We headed back out and stopped at Oasis to return our boards. We also bought some ice cream and postcards. We haven’t been able to find any other Great Sand Dunes postcards, so I wish I would have bought a few more.