We were officially in the middle of nowhere. Colorado seemed like such a hopping place just a few miles back. Now, as we continued on the road south, we were left gaping at the barren landscape and the rickety old gas stations that appeared every dozen miles. I couldn’t help but wonder, Is there anything out here at all? It felt like the end of the world.
But, of course, it wasn’t. We had more adventures ahead! Our morning’s destination: the Great Sand Dunes. Many people do not make this place a priority on their family vacations. It’s rather out of the way, and it’s also hard to imagine why sand could be so exciting. We had recently heard from the Moore’s, however, that the place was amazing. “I wish we could have stayed there longer!” Sarah Moore had said.
It sounded like it had some serious potential. But, boy, it was really far out there. We turned off the “main” highway (relatively speaking… it was still a very small, little-used road) and followed the signs toward to the Dunes.
It wasn’t long until we spotted them in the distance. Low ripples of yellow-brown sand paraded in front of the mountain range ahead. They were noticeable, but not all that impressive. Of course, we were still twenty miles away.
Suddenly, as we approached the park, we realized that these were not simply rolling hills of sand. These were mountains. The sheer size and scale of the Dunes was unbelievable. There were no paths carved into the side; there were not even footprints visible on the windblown surface. Several dozen people traipsed up the Dunes in a long line.
We decided to pioneer our own route.
“So, Debby. Are you going to the top?” Ten asked me.
“Of course!” I shouted, running up one of the foothills. My feet sank into the loose sand, nearly stumbling me to my knees. “On second thought…”
We scrambled our way up the dunes, trying to find the flattest plains and the most packed sand. I quickly realized that the ridgelines were the most difficult place to walk, as your feet could easily be twisted to either side. Ten suddenly dove down into a sand crater, valiantly rescuing a lost inner tube. I prepared to slide, as Ten watched from behind his camera.
“Ready?” I asked him. He nodded and I made a flying leap. While I landed on the inner tube, I was unable to attain hardly any momentum. The tube slid a foot before unceremoniously dumping me into the sand.
“Please, tell me you missed that shot.”
Ten laughed, “Oh no, I got every second of it.”
We ditched the tube and resumed our climb. The sand grew more dry and packed, but the sun was getting hotter and the slopes steeper. Ten decided to wait below, while I continued the trek upward. I started setting goals for myself: Ok, just make it to that little scrub patch up there and then you can catch your breath. The air was noticeably thinner. I began to stop more and more often to rest. I set a new goal for myself: reach the peak of this immediate dune. It wasn’t quite the topmost spot on the Dunes, but it was pretty high up.
I made it (with much huffing and puffing). It was quite a sight to see. The nearby mountains were still capped in snow, yet here I stood, amidst my very own Sahara.
The decent down was a simple matter of sliding, tumbling, jumping, and running my way to Ten.
“I think one of the Dunes is trying to hitch a ride in my shoe,” I told him as I dumped the sand out by the car. He laughed and did the same.
Our drive got slightly more interesting after that. The landscape developed slowly: barren waste slowly transformed into a stubby, shrubby plain, then into a true mountainous area. We crossed the Rockies on a back highway, winding up and down and around. It was dizzying at times.
At one point, I could tell my car needed a rest. I pulled off at the next “scenic viewpoint” and we got out to see what was to be seen. It turned out to be “Treasure Falls”. Apparently, some old gold miners had buried their treasure in these hills and never come back for it! Unfortunately, we didn’t find much more than a few dozen chipmunks.
After a grueling mountain journey, I was looking for any excuse to take a break from the drive. And what luck! A sign suddenly proclaimed: “Archaeological site, next left”. Oh, I was excited. We drove up the road and pulled into the parking lot.
I should have known that something was wrong when we were the only car in the lot.
There was a park ranger at the station there who was very willing to tell us about the area. It was only after twenty minutes of listening to her ramble on about the Ancient Puebloans that she mentioned that the site was closed for the day.
I had to at least try. “Well, actually, I am an archaeologist. Is there any way we can just take a quick look at the excavations in progress?”
The ranger gave me a once-over and then said adamantly “No”. But, if we were interested in hearing the rest of her historical knowledge, she’d be happy to tell us!
One interesting thing we did learn, was that the landform nearby was called Chimney Rock.
“I thought we saw Chimney Rock in Nebraska,” whispered Ten as we hustled away from the park ranger.
“We did! This is just a fake one. No wonder they can’t get this place made into an official state park.”
We drove off, slightly jaded, but ambitious for our next stop: Mesa Verde (a real archaeological wonder). Camping for the night and then we’ll be on our way, bright and early!
(This is kinda a fun picture, just to give you some sense of the sheer size of the Dunes. Can you see me there in the middle?)