To the Great Sand Dunes and Beyond

Our first stop in the state of Colorado. Look at those clouds!

I was excited to arrive in Colorado. We were both happier than I thought we’d be to put arid New Mexico behind us, and get a first glimpse of the Rockies. Every mile was taking me closer to my grandson in Denver, who I couldn’t wait to see, so there was that. We do love seeing the Colorado mountains, though.

First of all, we had to negotiate a Colorado-style traffic jam.

We were on our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park, in the southeastern portion of the state. They are the tallest sand dunes in North America, breathtaking to look at with the Sangre de Cristo mountains as their backdrop. Over thousands of years, sediment from the mountains blew down into a valley which contained several lakes. When the lakes receded, the sand was left behind.

The tallest dunes are 750 feet in height, and the entire dune area is about 30 miles wide. Standing and looking at them, or even hiking them, it doesn’t seem like they could be so large. On the morning we planned to hike the dunes, we woke up to snow. The soft white layer sat on the top of our truck and we could see snow on the dunes as we departed for our visit to the park. It was only 40 degrees and I really wasn’t sure about getting some outdoor time. There was no doubt in Cal’s mind that we were keeping our plans, so I layered up and we headed out.

View from our living room, the foothills covered in snow

The only way to visit the dunes is to first cross the sandy Medano Creek. There is no bridge. The fresh mountain water was a bit cold on the toes, but not as bad as I thought it would be. And I was already starting to shed layers.

Hiking the dunes was pure fun.
We blazed new trails–
–and took a lot of breaks just to enjoy the view.
Some people like to surf the dunes, and sleds can also be rented.

It warmed up to an amazing 48 degrees by the time we were off the dunes and enjoying our picnic lunch. We were at a high altitude so the sun felt good, and we were heated up from the hike, so a cool picnic was not an issue at all.

We enjoyed the views from all sides and at different times of day during our two-night stay near the dunes. On an earlier trip, we had passed this park up due to a shortage of time. I’m glad that we were able to give it a good visit!

In the same day, we visited Zapata Falls. The drive up the side of the mountain was 3 miles on a treacherous boulder and rock-strewn road. Our truck did the job just fine. We saw just one or two smaller vehicles at the top and weren’t sure how they could have done it – or what they did to their cars in the process.

Zapata was our second creek crossing in one day, but much higher on a scale of difficulty.

There were rocks, flowing deep water, and a small ice field to traverse
Then, a passageway between the cliff walls
First glimpse of the iced-in portion of the falls
Success! There’s the rest of the 25 foot Zapata Falls – a sight to see!

At this writing, it has been about 2 months since we visited Zapata, and looking back, it was one of the highlights of our trip so far. A slightly dangerous adventure that leads to success is always a cause for celebration!

Next time-Summer of 2021 in Denver

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