Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Surprise! Thanks to a new cell tower, we've got phones and aircard reception here at Great Sand Dunes National Park (read our campground review and see campground photos here). It's a good thing, because I have taken almost 100 photos in less than 24 hours - I need to get some of 'em posted!

Don't ever pass up a chance to visit a National Park! This designation is used to preserve the most beautiful landscapes in our country, and Great Sand Dunes is no exception.

We arrived just after 1 pm yesterday, carefully timed for the best campsite selection - after the departing campers had cleared out, but most of the new arrivals had not yet come in. We knew there were few sites here that would accommodate our size but, with the help of Dave and Marie Dengate, the camp hosts and Boomers, we squeezed into a "pullout" site with a wonderful view of the dunes. We immediately noticed (even before we read the sign posted at every site) the "bear box" where campers can store food... as the signs say, this is bear country. I'd love to see one - from the safety of Scoopy.

We did a big loop hike after we set up - considerably longer than we had anticipated - down to the dunes, along the creek, up to the visitor center, then up the flank of the mountainside on a trail back to the campground. The dunes loom to the west of the campground; the Sangre de Cristos loom even higher (WAY higher) to the east. According to our GPS, we are only about 25 miles southwest of our campground in Westcliffe (where we were a week ago) - with 13,000+ foot peaks in between.

As I mentioned, the campground hosts here are a Boomer couple we met earlier this summer. When we awoke today, we were anticipating the arrival of two more Boomer couples, Chuck and Jan Moore and Jim and Bobby Chapman. We wanted to get some hiking in early, knowing socializing would be on the afternoon agenda.

Around 8 am, we hopped in Jules and set off down a sand road to the "Point of No Return" - past which only 4 wheel drive vehicles can pass. Now, Jules is a Jeep, so technically we could motor on past the small parking lot, but we were detered by the sign that mentioned deep sand ahead and suggested we lower the air pressure in our tires to 15 psi. Yeah, right...!

We parked at the Point of No Return and headed off to the dunes on foot. They are fantastic! In most places, the sand is sufficiently firmly packed that walking was not difficult, and cheery masses of small sunflowers bloomed in protected bowls. We saw all sorts of tracks (no bear tracks, though), and left a few miles of our own.

Once we were off the dunes, we headed up the mountainside to the Dunes Overlook, almost as high as the highest dunes, which gave us a fabulous view of the huge dune area. It looks just like a hunk of the Sahara has been set down next to some of Colorado highest mountains - really crazy.

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