Back in the day, if you wanted to talk about the desert planet in “Star Wars,” you were jabbing about Jawas traipsing around on Tatooine. But kids these days, with their force-awakenings and whatnot, are much more likely to say “Jakku” when pressed on that bit of trivia.
Regardless of the generational divide among sci-fi fantasy fans, you and your Jedi-obsessed crew can scoot your land speeder down to an otherworldly landscape just a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the mailing address listed on this rag’s subscription insert.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, located near the tiny town of Mosca in Alamosa County, is not only an unparalleled location to stage your forthcoming, shot-by-shot remake of “A New Hope,” but it just might be the Centennial State’s best weekend getaway. Caused by one of Mother Nature’s most stunning geological quirks, the dunes cover roughly 19,000 acres of Bierstadt-esque scenery at the base of the often snow-kissed Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The cause of many a recent transplant’s agape pie hole, the grand allure of hiking at Great Sand Dunes National Park is that there are no trails. Nature’s continuous pushing of the dunes with the valley’s winds means the dunes themselves shift throughout the day, nullifying the efforts of many a trail-building park ranger in the early 20th century. That means that visitors have free reign to march up and down the park’s innumerable sandy peaks, while simultaneously shouting lines from many a notable work set in the desert. A solid starting point would be, “Evan, help. I’m getting all yellow!” from Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice.”
Parroting Burton aside, there’s plenty to do in the dunes while visiting for a long or standard weekend. Other than ogling at the damn things from the comfort of your Subaru, there are several marked hikes that start both at the Dunes parking lot and the Montville/Mosca Pass Trailhead. A typical jaunt from the dunes parking lot to the top of the dunes takes about two hours total and covers about three miles. From the trailhead, the Mosca Pass trail offers a more strenuous trek of roughly seven miles with 1,400 feet of elevation gain. Medano Creek sometimes offers some splish-splahin’ fun, but a weak winter in Alamosa currently has the creek trickling at about 50 percent of its normal capacity for this time of the year.
It should also be mentioned that the proximity of the luxurious car camping spots at the dunes to actual trailheads makes the place an ideal destination for family with tots. With bear lockers and grated fire pits at every camp spot, it’s an easy and comfortable introduction to sleeping outside. Nearby flush toilets certainly don’t hurt either. And the fact that the National Parks Service is moving into triple digits this year — yup, the big 100 — makes a trip to the dunes all the more appealing.
If you’re still catching up on this whole “Star Wars” thing, or you’re way too deep and frequently reading Reddit posts about the true identity of Snoke, the folks at Red Rocks have arranged a nice Rebel Alliance refresher that will double as motivation to get to the dunes later in the year. Film on the Rocks announced earlier this spring that the final movie shown at the rocks this summer will be, wait for it, “The Force Awakens,” which features — you guessed it — a lot of Jakku. The show hits the rocks Sept. 6.
Other SUMMER FUN installments here: