Sand Dunes in Colorado?
~Sunday, October 18, 2020~
I think it’s official. I think from here on out, while we’re north, we have to have at least electrical hookups to be able to run the fireplace for heat or the portable space heater which does a pretty good job. We can run the heater, but it just sucks up the propane. The low last night got to 29 degrees which meant the trailer would hover around the low 40’s at night if you didn’t run some form of heat.
And another official item. We have to cancel our reservation at Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins, due to the Cameron Peak fire. We were supposed to arrive on October 19th for 6 nights, so we really need to get on a plan B. The Cameron Peak fire is only 56% contained as of today, so they’ve decided to sustain all evacuation notices in the surrounding campground area. We wouldn’t be able to relax or sleep well at night even if they allowed campers to stay there, with the fear of getting a knock on our door at 3:00 a.m. telling us we had to leave immediately. Not to mention being in the smoke (we did enough of that on our JMT hike a few years back and at home in Napa). And when you have choices, why put yourself in that situation? Not only did we get a personal phone call (not an email) from the camp host updating us on the situation, but some suggestions of alternative places to stay that are open. That’s another dilemma. This late in the season, many campgrounds are closed. So it will be interesting what we come up with tomorrow. His suggestion was the Carter Lake area where there is 1 out of 3 campgrounds open, and that he could have someone call us to discuss our site options. Within 2 minutes, I received a phone call from the nicest woman (a hunter) that knows the Fort Collins and wildfire area like the back of her hand. She said she’s never seen anything like this before….utterly devastating. The fire apparently started by negligence in a highly desolated area where there have been increasing problems with homeless encampments. Wow, that is a problem. And they’ve had a devil of a time trying to fight it with the difficult terrain, and the level of smoke/ash which disallows planes/helicopters in to battle it. Sadly, another fire erupted today, the CalWood fire near Boulder, CO. What everyone needs right now is rain, rain, rain and cooler temperatures.
We did hear back from Jeff’s cousin Ricky, who lives in Fort Collins and that he’s fine and safe, thank goodness. We still plan on seeing the Fort Collins area, but not sure when. We may visit the early part of November if the smoke has dissipated by then. But we have to consider the weather changes in northern Colorado at that point. We were definitely planning on leaving Colorado by the end of October, so we’d be extending our time in this lovely state by a week. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll start heading south to warmer weather.
After this morning’s mishap, time to move on to why we’re here in the first place. To see Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s only about 20 minutes from where we’re staying and easily accessible. As you approach, you can see the amazing sand dunes in the distance at the foot of the impressive Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It really is majestic.
All the while, we’re wondering how these sand dunes formed here and why we had never even heard of this national landmark until now. These are the tallest sand dunes in North America, with a 330 square mile deposit of sand. In a nutshell, these dunes formed by erosion from the surrounding mountains, which were shattered by freezing and thawing then tumbled by streams and winds. Amazing. We stopped at the visitor center to get even more information, but there was a wait since they were only allowing a few in at a time due to COVID. For now, we wanted to hit the sand dunes. There are people dispersed everywhere, as you can walk freely as far, or as little as you like. We, of course, wanted to hike up to the tallest sand dune we could find. As we got onto the sand, we found out that dogs are actually allowed. But Sadie wouldn’t have had much fun as her little paws would have kept sinking, especially on the climb. The sand temperature was fine, but it just wouldn’t have been fun for her. Jeff and I both mentioned how brutal this hike would be in the summer where I guess you can opt for a night hike. Wouldn’t that be cool with a full moon? Anyway, we proceeded heading towards the tall dunes having to stop every 5 minutes to get the sand out of our shoes. I finally decided to ditch the shoes and go barefoot, which is a bit more challenging. And as I came to find out, not the best for your feet. I got a few blisters from all the abrasion but didn’t care as it was so exciting to be doing such a unique hike; definitely challenging, hiking in sand on steep terrain. For every 2 steps forward, you slide 1 step back. The elevation gain was only 700 feet but it felt like 2,000. Along the way, we found the world’s largest tic-tac-toe engraved on one of the sandy slopes. Of course the wind can change its shape in no time, but we could faintly see what was left. It took us 2 hours to get to the top as we experienced higher winds dusting us with more sand (a little too abrasive when wearing shorts) and at times forcing you to turn the other way not to get it in your eyes.
After 10 minutes or so at the top, we looked forward to the fun descent. We ran into a few boarders who relished in getting down faster (like skiing in snow, but in sand). Some of the spots were definitely “black-diamond” like where at least you’d have a soft fall if it were to happen. We knew we’d get down in about ½ the time it took us going up. After 3 hours of hiking in sand, it was nice to be back on firmer ground. Now for a foot soak.
Sadie was so happy to see us and happy for a big walk around our site which is open sandy fields, dotted with low brush where she has such a good time darting in and out of. I prepared some horderves and much deserved margaritas, and soaked my feet. Then a catch up phone call to my sister in Oregon. Jeff made a delicious falafel dinner while watching the 49er’s defeat the L.A. Rams. It’s been a great day!