June 10 – 12
Eth and I left Michigan Saturday afternoon for part one of our National Parks road trip. We drove until about 1:30am when neither of us could stay awake, then pulled into a rest area to catch a few zzz’s before driving the rest of the way to Denver, our first stop. We both slept for about 2 hours and when we woke up to get going again we found that our car battery had died. We always travel with jumper cables, but it was 3:30 in the morning and most of the people there were also sleeping in their cars. We saw a big van with people coming back from the bathroom so Ethan went to see if they could help us out. They wanted to help, but were driving a rental and couldn’t locate the battery. As Ethan and finished talking with them he spotted a guy in a car parked only a few spaces from us who was awake. Ethan approached him, but they guy must’ve been spooked because we threw on his seatbelt and drove away as fast as he could. So weird. The van people has spotted another person who came over and was willing to help. He was pretty funny and really nice to help us at such a strange hour. We jumped the car while making small talk, then got back on the road. What a way to start the trip! We just hopped it didn’t happen again.
The rest of the drive was uneventful and we made it to Denver around 1:30. We met up with Huntar and packed all her stuff in our car then headed out to get some food, make a quick stop at REI for a sleeping pad, then got on the road to our first destination- Great Sand Dunes National Park.
The drive took about 4 hours and we stopped to get gas and groceries in a tiny little town. Our camp for the night was on Bureau Of Land Management land just outside the park. BLM land is owned by the government and sometimes has great places to camp for free. The sites have no running water, toilets or amenities but it’s free! This particular site was just under a beautiful snow capped mountain in an open prairie with lots of cows. This was the first time we were camping on BLM land, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We pulled onto a dirt road and there was a big sign telling you the rules, etc. We kept driving toward the mountain and pulled off at a place that looked like people had camped at before. Relatively flat and with a established fire ring. Nice!
As we were setting up camp and making dinner a rancher hearses the cows past us to leave them for the night. After it had been dark for a while the cows must’ve decided they didnt like that spot because they all came marching back to where the rancher had moved them from. Only problem was he had gated them out of that area. So they all smushed up against the fence about 100 yards from us and their cow noises sang us to sleep. It was oddly comforting.
In the morning we got an early start and noticed that the cows had somehow made it to the other side of the fence. Strange. We drove another 15 to Great Sand Dunes park and decided to climb the Dunes first before it got too hot. The Dunes seem to come out of nowhere beneath the bigger snowy mountains. It seems a very odd place for 33 square miles of sand. The get to the Dunes you first have to cross thru a shallow, but freezing cold river. If it had been really hot the water probably would have felt better, but it was so cold it gave me an instant headache. We squealed the whole way across and probably looked like idiots. It’s a bit of a walk to get to the sand after that and our feet warmed up pretty fast.
Climbing the Dunes seems like a great idea until you get out there and realize that what looks like one big hill is actually a series of hills that get gradually taller. We would scale one hill only to have to go back down and then back up a taller hill. It was exhausting. But they are amazing and the views were stunning. Ethan made it to one of the taller Dunes while we watched from below. Once we were thoroughly sandy from head to toe, we left the Dunes to check out a hiking trail. The trail was short and took us to a nice view of the Dunes below. Next up was another short hike to Zapata Falls.
The hike took us to the river that the falls flow into, but to see the actual falls you have to wade across the river several times and then wade up river at the very end. I made it to just before you have to get in and couldn’t go any farther. It was sooooo cold. My feet were numb, I had a headache and could barely think straight. Ethan and Huntar braved the water to see the falls while I waited. They were both shivering and had numb feet by the time they made it back. Crazy people.
By the time we got back to the car it was early afternoon and we had to get on the road to our next destination – Mesa Verde National Park. Great Sand Dunes