Great Sand Dunes celebrates new exhibits

Celebrating new exhibits in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve from left to right are Kathy Faz Garcia (NPS), Lucy Adams (Friends of the Dunes}, Keith Hershey (Western National Parks Association}, and Dale Culver (NPS). Courier photo by John Waters

GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE — Encompassing over 150,000 acres that includes sand dunes, forests, and alpine tundra, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a treasure that is enjoyed by over 461,000 visitors annually.

On June 9, park officials and guests gathered to celebrate the new exhibits and the park visitor center.

One of the many roles of the National Park Service is educating visitors about all the many wonderful attributes within the park. A first stop people make in a park is the visitor center.

For the past eight years, park employees in consultations with tribal leaders, contractors, the Western National Parks Association, and the Friends of the Sand Dunes have been busy at work, "giving us ideas and the stories to tell and what elements to incorporate," according to park Chief of Interpretation Kathy Faz Garcia. Condensing the 150,000 acres of the park into visitor center exhibits is a herculean task.

Alamosa County Commissioner Lori Laske who attended the ceremonies said of the exhibits, "This is amazing, what a wonderful educational opportunity for hands-on learning.”

Also attending from Alamosa County were Commissioner Vern Heersink and County Administrator Roni Wisdom.

During his remarks, Park Ranger Dale Culver said, "The exhibits highlight the whole park and preserve in a way that allows the visitor to experience it in a way they may not have had a chance to. More importantly, we explain that the national park is here to protect all that is here, not just a big pile of sand."

Culver said the new exhibits are a great educational asset to the park and region.

In the June 7 edition of the Valley Courier, readers were encouraged to visit the new exhibits to have a greater understanding of all the park offers and to learn what a fulgurate and a Sabkha are, and that the answers would also be printed here. That article also referred to the ceremony as a ribbon cutting. In a late-minute change, park officials decided to do away with ribbons that would be thrown away as a measure to foster sustainability.

According to the park, "The explosive power of lightning is captured in blackish tubes of glass called fulgurites. At 50,000 degrees F — hotter than the surface of the sun — lightning blasts the sand, vaporizing the area where the bolt of electricity shoots through the sand and melting the surrounding sand into dark glass." Visit the exhibit to see a fulgurite.

And please do not forget, the presence of fulgurites in the sand reminds us that lightning can and does strike the exposed dune field during storms. If you are out exploring when a storm approaches, come down off the dunes.

If you find a fulgurite in the dunes, please study, and enjoy it, but leave it in the sand for the next visitor to also enjoy. Natural and cultural resources in national parks belong to all Americans, protected by law for the enjoyment of this and future generation.

Sabkha is an Arabic word for salt flat. These are low-lying areas that turn into salty expanses when water evaporates and minerals are left behind in a crust cementing sand grains together, according to the park.

To better understand all that Great Sand Dunes has to offer, visit the park and the new exhibits at the visitor center. For more information, www.nps.gov/grsa.