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Colorado sandboarding

Carving waves of grains at 8,000 feet

It doesn't have to be snowing to make these turns. In fact, you don't need snow at all.

It's called sandboarding. It's a little like snowboarding, but totally different.

“The main difference here is there is no lift,” said Enrique Salcedo of Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa, Colorado. “You're going to have to work for it.”

Salcedo said since they started renting sandboards a few years ago, they've created a market.

“The summer is our busiest season for it,” he said. “We have folks that come from all over the world: Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada. The dunes are perfect for it.”

While people do sandboard all over the world in deserts and coastal regions (there's even a sand board park in Oregon) many are surprised to find the largest sand dunes in North America at the base of the Rocky Mountains. More than 41,000 acres; 33 square miles of sand, up to 750 feet tall.

It's all because of a force of nature. Left behind from ancient lakes, sand from the Colorado's massive San Luis Valley gets swept up and carried by strong winds until they hit a wall - the 13,000-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains – and opposing storm winds, where the grains drops like the rocks they're made of, forming the dunes, and Great Sand Dunes National Park.

It's a trip, that's for sure.

“It's such a different environment,” Salcedo said. “It feels like the Sahara.”

Sand will find its way into everything. Just walking around is interesting.

“Every step, the sand just moves from underneath you,” he said. “It's just constantly shifting and changing. Every step forward is two steps back.”

On slope it's a slower board sport, the thick matrix makes low, dull creaks and groans under the board, but it's just slightly less the sensation of surfing a wave, floating fresh powder, if not something totally different and equally as cool.

Perhaps the real magic is simply the act of it all.

Wrapping up ears and eyes, rolling up pant legs and heading barefoot into a fawn-colored surreal scene. Massive landscapes of sand collide with alpine peaks. Sharp cornices break and pour like molten fluid in some giant slow motion hour glass. Each foot step collapses the surface area around you and the lack of upward progress is pleasantly blinded by the beauty.

And you get to surf through it all.

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