A search and rescue effort for a missing park visitor initiated on Sunday, May 14, at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is scaled back due to adverse weather conditions in the high elevation search area. Snow and high winds have impacted the safety of the search teams and the ability of search dogs and overflights, to safely operate in the area where the teams are concentrating on at this time.
The search area is 14 square miles of rugged terrain in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area around Mount Herard, a 13,000’foot peak in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. This area is currently expected to receive snow and high winds. Conditions permitting, the search team will reconvene search efforts on Monday, May 22 and will consider additional resources after the weather conditions improve.
An active investigation began on Sunday, May 14th after park staff noticed a vehicle had been parked for several days in the Sand Pit picnic area parking lot. This parking lot is heavily used by visitors seeking access to picnic, hike, and also used as overnight parking to access backcountry areas in the park and preserve. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the visitor entered Great Sand Dunes on Monday, May 8th and had not left an itinerary or travel plan with family nor received a backcountry permit and overnight parking pass at the park visitor center to help establish their travel route and planned return date.
While efforts to locate the presumed overdue hiker haven’t been successful to date, searches have helped to focus the search area to the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area and the drainages around Mount Herard. Park staff are supported by multiple other resources and agencies including dog teams from Larimer, Park, and El Paso counties, US Forest Service Monument Helitack, Flight for Life, and Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Multi Mission Aircraft.
Updates to the situation will be made as new information develops. Media inquiries should be directed to Public Information Officer, Kathy Faz at 719-582-0258.