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With sand and stars as far as the eye can see, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has a way of putting everything in perspective.
USA TODAY

Though scientists can’t definitively say how old the sand dunes are at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in southcentral Colorado (about 2.5 hours from Colorado Springs and nearly four hours from Denver), a scientific paper published in 2007 suggest they formed about 440,000 years ago; newer research suggests they may be younger. No matter their age, though, the dunes are magnificent: They are the tallest dunes in North America and one of the most fragile and complex systems in the entire world. Annually, about 300,000 people visit the park to play in the sand and all of the other areas of the park. We checked in with Jamie Greeman, the director of the Alamosa Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the team at Colorado.com for ideas on 10 things not to miss when visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.

1. Get acquainted with the park: On your way into Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, stop into the Visitor Center to learn about how the sand dunes were formed, as well as other ecological occurrences that are specific to the area. There’s a 20-minute movie about the park, as well interactive exhibits and an exhibit of paintings and photography inspired by the landscapes.

2. Surf the sand: Visitors to the park are invited to actually surf the sand dunes. Choose from either sand sledding or sandboarding (think snowboarding, on sand), steady your balance and glide down the sand dunes. Be sure you have the right gear, though – snow sleds, snowboards and skis don’t work very well on dry sand; rent gear year-round from Kristi Mountain Sports in nearby Alamosa, or Great Sand Dunes Oasis (April–October) just outside the park entrance.

Not sure about sand surfing? Check out a video on what it’s like:

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You don’t need snow to ski or snowboard at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, but you do need wax and a good sense of humor.
USA TODAY

3. Ride a fat bike: Fat tire bikes (think souped-up mountain bikes with extra wide tires that make riding on sand more viable) are permitted where regular and mountain bikes aren’t, namely beyond Point of No Return (yes, that’s the name) along the Medano Pass Primitive Road. Before heading out for a day’s ride or overnight camping, be sure to check sand conditions to be sure riding is advisable.

4. Giddyup: Horseback riding is permitted within Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, and is a terrific way to see the park. If you have your own horse, most of the…