Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sands and Summits

As we headed toward southern Colorado, we noticed that the landscape was changing. Dry brush replaced evergreens. Mountain plateaus took the place of majestic summits. As we explored this area, we are discovering the "new-to-us" type of natural beauty that makes up the desert southwest.

Our first stop was Colorado's Lathrop State Park. It offered quiet, spacious sites with a bonus ... a gorgeous hike on the Hogback Trail with beautiful views of the Spanish Peaks ...

... and fun formations of huge sandstone boulders mingled within the pinon pines and cacti.

We chose to stay there due to its proximity to one of the National Parks on my "bucket list" ... Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. After reading up on the park, Doug decided that it should be on his "bucket list" also, so the following day we drove the 75 miles to check it out.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve boasts of the tallest sand dunes in North America. First we checked out the Visitor's Center and viewed the 20 minute video on the formation of the dunes. After "carbo loading" with peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate, we headed to the parking lot near the dunefield to figure out our strategy for conquering the High Dune on the First Ridge (elevation gain 699 feet).

Hum ... maybe I should take the advice of the "locals" and just sit this one out!

As we started to climb, the wind blew harder and the dunes got steeper. I realized that this was not going to be a simple feat.

Thanks to the expertise of my "sand guide", we were able to follow a longer but less steep trail to the top. I closely followed behind Doug's footprints since the strong winds would quickly sweep them away.

OK, maybe I wasn't close enough, Oh Patient and Wise Guide!

I would be lying if I said that this was easy ... because it wasn't. But when we got to the top of the High Dune, the spectacular view and the sense of accomplishment made it all worth it! 

As Great Sand Dunes "summiteers", we can now pass on a few pieces of advice ...

Anticipate what kind of equipment you will need as it can be cool and very windy at the top. I am glad that I had a windbreaker with hood and protective eyewear to protect myself from the fiercely the blowing ... and very fine ... sand. Good hiking boots help, but realize that you will get a lot of sand in your shoes. And, at least for me, a hiking stick helped as I climbed up the steeper slopes.

Bring plenty of water as you will be really working hard and perspiring even if it is only 50 degrees out there.

Take time to celebrate the "kid" in you and enjoy the gift of being able to play in the giant sandbox. 

What do you think of my "sand skiing" form as I "carve" down the dunes?
And we were able to play ... and observe others playing ... on our way down the dunes. We were reminded of our snowboarding and skateboarding sons as we watched a young man "sandboard" down a dune.

We both agreed that the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was one of our top RVentures to date. The giant sand dunes against the backdrop of even higher mountain summits made us realize that God took great delight in creating this majestic human playground for us!

The park literature recommended a stop at Zapata Falls as a way to cool off after climbing the sand dunes, so we decided to check it out. Unfortunately, the National Park Service didn't include a warning about ... the 3.5 mile drive up a very rough, rocky, steep and very minimally maintained road leading to the falls.

It took us about a half hour to slowly navigate up the road to the parking lot. After parking, we enjoyed a different view of Great Sands and began a half mile uphill hike which lead us to a beautiful mountain stream.

But where were these spectacular falls?? Well, Doug did not just drive up this treacherous road to NOT get a look at the falls, so he carefully navigated over some wet, slippery rocks and disappeared in the cavern while I anxiously waited by the stream.

He re-appeared a little while later with stories and pictures of a unique hidden mountain waterfall. Mission Accomplished!

The next day we had to take the Wildebeest in to repair her cooling system as she was getting a little "hot under the hood" as we coaxed her up the mountain passes.

So while she enjoyed her "spa day" in Trinidad, Colorado, we explored another natural wonder ... Capulin Volcano National Monument

The relatively "young" volcano (only about 60,000 years old) lies in the Raton-Clayton volcanic field of northeastern New Mexico. This 1000 foot summit was a little easier to reach, as we could drive to the top of the volcano on a paved, spiral road and then hike on some well maintained trails around the rim and crater.

The one mile walk around Capulin's rim provided spectacular views of the lower lava flow fields and distant mountains.

It was amazing to see the vegetation that has grown up among the volcanic rocks.

Another short path lead down into the mouth of the volcano where the spewing hot lava began many years ago ...

... and where God's beauty still remains. 

Until next time ... reach those summits ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

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  1. Your first photo is incredibly beautiful. I've driven past the Great Sand Dunes but have never stopped. You've given us another place to add to our bucket list. Thanks for sharing your experiences there and at Capu

  2. Doug took and processed the first photo. It is an HDR so we were able to capture the varying light conditions at the time. Happy that you enjoy following along!

  3. Capulin has been on my list for awhile but your post has inspired me to get there soon. Beautiful photos!

  4. Lots of beautiful National Monuments to visit ... and Capulin is one of them! Thanks for following along!