Sand and Stars: Visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park

Summit Semester Hannah Whitaker 2016The two-and-a-half-hour drive was worth it. Hills upon rolling hills of sand stretched across the horizon. It was like a beach in the middle of nowhere. We ate lunch and then began trekking towards the top. It was far harder than it looked. I didn’t imagine hiking uphill on sand would be as difficult as it was. On top of that, whenever the wind blew it was like being poked with a bunch of little needles. I probably should’ve brought a bandana.

Even though it stung when whipping around, the sand was soft and warm when it was still. I felt like a child as I amused myself by letting it run through my fingers. I couldn’t help but wonder, how did this sand get here? How did these dunes form, in the middle of Colorado? My friend and I pondered over the question. We considered all the possibilities of how the elements could have created them, but still couldn’t figure out why here? I mean Colorado has lots of areas like this, so why aren’t they covered with sand dunes? It was really quite incredible to think about.

The group I was with was filming a mock Bear Grylls’ “Man Versus Wild” episode. This was our first one, and Jake was Bear, if you know him, which is rather fitting. “Bear” would be stranded in the sand dunes and give advice as to how to survive. His steps were to first find water, then food, and finally shelter, which is out of order.

We decided to bring a watermelon with us as part of the storyline. Jake would “discover” it covered in the sand; it was quite a sight to see him hiking with a watermelon on his shoulders across the dunes. We stopped about every ten minutes to film a new scene. The people around us must have thought it pretty odd to see a bunch of young adults filming each other busting watermelons open in the sand dunes of Colorado. The whole thing was rather hilariously strange.

The majority of us decided to camp that night on some nearby campgrounds, and headed to the site to pitch tents, string up hammocks, or just set up a sleeping spot outside. I personally chose the last option. After setting up, we ate a classic American dinner of hamburgers, and then just before sunset, loaded back up into the vans to catch the view at the dunes.

It was beautiful. The sun set over the sand dunes and cast an array of reds, oranges, and yellows. Behind us were the mountains, which were tainted with blues and purples. It made for some awesome pictures. I’d say at least half of the students here had a DSLR camera strapped around their neck trying to capture the sight. We took a lot of silhouette pictures and did little photoshoots for each other.

But what was most fun were the conversations. Something about being set in such a breathtaking atmosphere seems to really make people more genuine in their discussion with one another. That doesn’t necessarily mean going deeper, but just more engaged than normal with the absence of a distracting city environment and technology. We talked about our first impressions of each other, what we thought of the staff members (all good things of course), and our expectations before coming to Summit Semester.

As the sun fell over the sandy hills, we hiked back to our Brady Bunch van, loaded up, and went back to the campground. We built a fire and roasted marshmallows for s’mores. In addition to that, Max baked a cherry cobbler in the coals.

I slept under the stars that night. I was comfortable and warm. I woke up a couple times with a light shining behind me. It was so bright I thought it was a headlight of sorts, but in fact it was just the moon. I didn’t know it could be so bright; I guess it took being out in the middle of nowhere Colorado to discover another full aspect of God’s great glory, even through something as simple as the moon.

The trip was a wonderful experience, from our parody Bear Grylls’ television series to hiking the dunes at sunset to sleeping out under the stars.

Hannah Whitaker comes from Lexington, Kentucky, and brings with her a strong affinity for sweet iced tea. She enjoys sports, politics, and studying about painters and architects. Hannah has a heart for serving those in physical and spiritual need, with special attention to those in foreign countries. After Summit Semester, she is planning to move to India to teach school for the next seven months. Afterwards, she plans to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering and Business Management, and hopefully an MBA that will allow her to start her own business that would allow her to financially support small communities in developing countries.