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The Open Road: Great Sand Dunes National Park

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Nature in lots of varieties, loneliness, and indicators from the universe… all a part of the open street.

When I first started dreaming about this journey – about ending grad faculty and hitting the open street – I considered Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. I hadn’t heard a lot about this place however the concept of sinking my legs into heat, knee deep sand on the base of some snowy mountains seemed like a fairy story and for some cause turned my symbolic concept of freedom.

From my final cease, snowboarding with a good friend in Vail, Colorado, I drove 5 hours south via the valleys and snowy pastures of the Rocky Mountains in the direction of Great Sand Dunes National Park.

I pulled off on a mud street ~20 miles north of the dunes to camp for the night time at a spot referred to as Valley View Hot Springs. After soaking within the springs and assembly some pleasant nudists, I cozied up behind my automotive to learn and watch the sundown which was adopted by a coronary heart-dropping crescent moonset.

Road to the stunning Valley View Hot Springs



I awoke the subsequent day, did some yoga within the morning solar, made espresso and breakfast and went to city to select up groceries for the subsequent few days. There’s just one campground open within the winter that’s near the park referred to as Zapata Falls Campground. Getting there includes driving ~20 minutes up a bumpy dust street to the bottom of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. After the morning errands and the longer than anticipated drive, sundown was quick approaching so I determined to publish up there for the night. The dunes might wait yet one more day.

Zapata Falls ended up being a magical place. The elevation of the campground offered spectacular views of the sand dunes and a brief hike gave entry to the bottom of the frozen Zapata Waterfall. I had by no means seen something prefer it. The falls and stream have been frozen on the floor however liquid water nonetheless flowed between the ice and rock beneath. The sound of this motion was an exquisite, hole cacophony I’d by no means heard in nature earlier than.

Great Sand Dunes NP from Zapata Falls

The Frozen Falls

After waking as much as frost inside my automotive I was ecstatic to lastly be capable of sink my ft into the nice and cozy sunbaked sand of the dunes. The park is ~30 sq. miles and is totally open for roaming, enjoying and exploring. I determined to hike to the “High Dune” which is about an hour from the parking zone and 750 ft excessive. To strategy and tramp round these monstrous, transient monuments you must first stroll by way of the braided, cool, ankle-deep Medano Creek.

Medano Creek and High Dune, higher left.

Despite being winter and believing that I was in comparatively fine condition the hike was scorching and strenuous. For each P steps up you sunk M step down and the sandy slopes uncovered to the solar burned your ft in case you didn’t transfer shortly sufficient. But now and again a cool patch of snow hidden beneath moist sand would offer your ft with candy candy aid.


Snow beneath the sand

The juice was well worth the squeeze and the journey to the highest was sprinkled with drained footprints and delightful patterns of wind blown sand.

Top of the “High Dune”


Some individuals rented boards or sleds to slip down the slopes which seemed extremely enjoyable however concerned a mega sand blast to the face which was hilarious to observe. An equally rewarding solution to get down was to run. Each step ahead propelled you 10 ft down the dune making the descent a simple, enjoyable 10 seconds in comparison with the sweaty 10 minute journey up.

Sand blasted sled experience


Great Sand Dunes National Park had been fantastic. It contained nature in so many varieties – mountains, snow, forest, sand, stream, desert. I felt grateful for my time there, for my dream come true. But it was additionally a time on my journey that I started to really feel lonely. I missed my household and pals and had been tenting close to the dunes for two nights alone after having just lately spent every week on my own round Arches National Park. I additionally had every week forward of me that was unplanned which, although I had left open on objective, felt considerably daunting. I actually simply needed somebody to speak to, hang around with, and maintain me firm even when that somebody was a stranger.

And then, on my final night time tenting close to the dunes, I met somebody unimaginable.

A woman walked previous my camp website and I requested her for change for the campground charge. She kindly gave it to me in change for a beer. We realized we have been each solo feminine campers, shared a celebratory excessive 5, and ended up hanging out all night time. The issues we had in widespread have been astonishing. We’re each 25-yr-previous feminine geologists. We each had hung out in New Zealand – me for analysis, her learning overseas. She had labored in Seattle, I simply completed grad faculty in Seattle. We are each rock climbers. She had spent lots of time in Nepal – a spot I deliberate on going this summer and needed to know extra about. She is Zen Buddhist – I had simply completed studying Siddhartha, and was desirous about Buddhism and meditation. We laughed and shared life tales of wrestle and stoke. She felt like an extended misplaced good friend. Before she left we exchanged info and I hoped I’d see her once more sometime.

It was really superb. I felt like I had despatched a message out to the universe and it had been answered again to me in full drive. Again and once more good issues stored occurring to me on this journey that I couldn’t clarify. I felt unimaginable. The subsequent day I requested my pal Dan (from the Red Rocks submit) if he’d be a part of me for every week of mountaineering in Indian Creek. He was recreation and so I headed again to Utah for every week of enjoyable, arduous climbing with a companion in crime.

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