Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sand Sand Sand and Driving Driving Driving

September 2, 2015

We had a lovely night in our National Park campsite, and woke up to a stunning morning view of the Great Sand Dunes and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind them. We first stopped at the Visitor’s Center to watch an informative film on the sand dunes, which Joe had been puzzling over all night. He said he just “could not understand what they were DOING there!”
View from our Campsite
The film explained that the sand comes from the San Juan Mountains to the west of them, and the sand then piles up at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. After listening to the film, Joe said, “I don’t believe it.” LOL!

The thing is, the dunes are so impressive that it’s hard to understand how they COULD come to be there, so far from any other sand. We left the Visitors Center and went to the parking lot which is the access point for the dunes. There we walked through the Medano Creek, which is a wide torrent in the spring, but today was a wide collection of rivulets, some of them surprisingly fast moving. I tried to avoid getting my sneakers wet by jumping over one of them, and fell down into the wet sand. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt.

Joe in Medano Creek
We walked out onto the sand “plain” which stretches at the feet of the dunes themselves, and about 100 yards in, Joe announced, “See those people up there on the dunes? They are CRAZY!” I asked him why, and he said, “This is really hard to walk in, and I am NOT HAVING FUN.” So I left him on the plain, and I went on alone, determined to climb at least one of the lower dunes.

The sand was not too easy to walk on, but it was a little bit easier than the last time I tried walking on the sand at Sandy Hook in NJ. Also, I was thankful that it was not terribly hot today, and there was a nice breeze blowing. So I wasn’t miserable from the heat, I just had to push ahead until I found myself on top of the first dune. It was not terribly high—maybe 30 feet? I have no idea! But it  gave me an elevated view, and I could see that to go any higher, I would have to first descend my dune and climb up the next larger one. 
On top of a dune

I wasn’t really interested in going further—I’m sure experienced hikers get a sense of accomplishment getting up there, but really, climbing on sand is HARD! So I asked someone who was also content to stop at that point if she would take my photo to prove I made it up there. And then I trudged back to Joe. I had noticed he was actually lying down waiting for me, and I was a little bit concerned. But he said it was just more comfortable that way, pointing out that people lie on the beach all the time.

As we returned to the car, I took my shoes off to cross Medano Creek this time. It was lovely—cool but not cold, and a lot easier than worrying about my sneakers getting wet. On the way, Joe told me he’d figured out why the dunes were there: he said it was God’s storage spot for beach sand. He just hadn’t used it all up when He made all the beaches, this was the leftover sand. It made as much sense as the story they told us in the visitors center video!

After that, our day was all about driving. Until I really looked at the map, I didn’t realize that the Sand Dunes are actually almost exactly in the center of southern Colorado—not toward the east as I’d been thinking. We drove a LONG way today, through about half of Colorado and on into Kansas.
Once we went over the last of the mountain passes, about an hour or so after we left the sand dunes, the landscape was prairie grasslands. This has its own beauty to us, and we didn’t mind the change of scene so much…. But we minded the drop in altitude. We were at over 8,000 feet this morning, and we have dropped down to about 2600 feet (I know this because on this trip, Joe installed an altimeter app on my phone.) The drop in elevation has caused us to return to temperatures well into the 90’s. Luckily we have air conditioning in Sam.

The road less traveled
I did make one stop, feeling kind of silly about it, but I couldn’t resist. We passed two places in Fort Garland, CO, which were legally selling marijuana. One said on its sign that it was only for medicinal use, but the large purple building we passed, called Green World, announced very clearly that it was for recreational use. As I walked around to take a photo of the sign, a customer leaving the store greeted me. He looked about my age, long gray hair…. an “aging hippie” like me and the rest of my friends. I didn’t go inside—since I was crossing the border in a short time, it wouldn’t have been legal to bring home a souvenir, and I didn’t want to get high and be unable to help with the driving. But I must say, it is great to see this social change happening—one state down, 49 to go!

Legal Weed
We aimed for Dodge City, Kansas, which was (I thought) kind of a long drive, but really there were very few options for places to stop before now. Our route took us on CO 10 until we joined US 50… for most of the time, the road was very sparsely traveled. Unfortunately, the RV park we wanted to stay at closed at 8pm, and the lady told us we couldn’t come (I called at about 8:07.) The only other park I could find in my books didn’t answer the phone. So we are staying at Chez Walmart. I can’t really complain, however—the price is right, and it comes with wifi. 

Tomorrow, our plan is to visit Dodge City’s museum, built on Boot Hill, and find out all about this formerly wild frontier town on the Santa Fe Trail (which we’ve been following today, along the Arkansas River.)  And then we will continue on east.

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