We have nothing to lose and a world to see

The beginning of a 2 week Colorado roadtrip: Great Sand Dunes National Park

{ Did I mention that we moved back to Texas?? It’s true. As much as we LOVE the outdoor scene in Florida, our family and friends are here – and at the end of the day that is what makes both of us happiest when we are home between trips. }

About 1 month after settling into our new Texas home we decided that, since neither of us had seen mountains in awhile, we would head to Colorado for our next big trip! In addition to visiting some National Parks, we were excited to visit with some family and friends who recently moved to Denver. Once we wrapped our head around some kind of route, we packed up and headed out for 2 weeks on the road! We left Friday after work and made the long boring trek through north Texas, staying overnight at a truck stop along the way.

The only eventful part of this road trip was stopping in Arlington to see the Cadillac Ranch – a line-up of old Cadillacs buried upright in the dirt. Although it was fairly neat to see, the thick smell of spray paint and the abundance of trash on the ground really took away from the experience. On top of that it was SO hot outside that staying out any longer than 15 minutes was a death wish for ourselves and little Chewy. At least it was nice to stretch our legs for a bit.

As we made our way through New Mexico our long drive became substantially easier. The flat highway views from Texas  disappeared and we were now driving through beautiful farm land, surrounded by plateaus and old volcano mounds. We were wide-eyed and inspired the whole way, anticipating how much better the views would be once we crossed over into Colorado. Once the elevation began climbing, and the streets became more twisted and turned, we finally came upon the landmark we were waiting for – “Welcome to Colorful Colorado”!!! We were so excited to have made it after 2 long days in the van.

The sun quickly set as we made our way to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) spot about 20 minutes south of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was 10pm, pitch black, and we cautiously navigated based on GPS coordinates Sarah found from a blog online. After dodging some brush and large holes in the ground we were pretty sure we had made it, but had no idea where we were or what our surroundings looked like. After assuring Sarah that we wouldn’t get murdered in the middle of the night, we settled in to the sound of a light rain on the van roof and a cool breeze blowing through the window. The next morning was by far our favorite part of this 2-week trip. We woke up to a slight chill in the air and the deafening sound of silence – no cars, no people, no noise. In anticipation, we slowly opened our shades and saw that we were in a beautiful field surrounded by mountains! Hello Colorado! We quickly put ourselves together and enjoyed our breakfast with a beautiful view of the North Zapata Ridge. We spent the morning taking photos of the landscape, going on a walk, and barking at a wandering cow (just Chewy for the last one…). Although we would have loved to stick around longer, we were here for one specific reason – Sand Dunes.

When Sarah told me about Great Sand Dunes National Park I didn’t know what to expect. Neither of us had been there before, and I had actually never even heard of it. She described it as a Sahara Desert with snowy mountains in the background. I was intrigued and we were both eager to experience it. We arrived early as that is recommended when bringing a pet so their paws don’t burn on the hot mid-day sand. We planned our route at the Visitor’s Center, filled up lots of water bottles, and made our way through a shallow stream that separates the parking lot from the dunes.

The vastness of the sand was awe-inspiring. We stood with Chewy and stared out into a never-ending view of sand mountains, sprinkled with tiny black specs we couldn’t believe were people. After getting our bearings we set our sights on the tallest dune in our view and made its ascent our goal for the day. Slowly we made our way up a smaller dune, not realizing our feet would be swallowed up with each step. It felt like we were carrying cinderblocks on our feet while Chewy pranced effortlessly on top. Having only arrived in Colorado the night before, we underestimated the effects of elevation as we shuffled our way across multiple dunes. We took breaks between the huffing and puffing to watch people sand board and sled.  Neither of us realized you had to rent the boards and sleds outside the park before coming in…but now we know. Hopefully next time!

We made it to the base of the tall dune and looked up – somehow it didn’t seem this steep when we were further away. People were crawling on their hands and feet to the get the top, going in single file using leftover foot holes from those that had hiked before them. After the first few steps it was obvious this was not going to be easy. Each step crumbled underneath and brought us back 2-3 steps. Chewy hopped between the foot prints, leading the way. I was last in our family line keeping an eye on Sarah as she kept an eye on Chewy ahead of her. We hit a hot sunny patch in the sand so Sarah began carrying Chewy with one arm while she continued crawling with the other. I could tell she was fading.  She couldn’t get a solid step and was getting tired, and we still had a long ways to go. Finally, she looked back and asked for help so I summoned whatever energy I had left, put my hand on her butt, and pushed her and Chewy up the dune. Two feet from the top, we saw arms reaching down (from what felt like the heavens) from helpful strangers grabbing Chewy and then Sarah and I to help us get to the top. Little did we know they had been cheering for us along the way!

Exhausted, we laid on the sand, straddled along the ridge gazing at the sky and breathing deeply. We knew we would have sand on our legs, arms, clothes, and hair, but we didn’t care. We were so happy to have made it to the top of what felt like an endless climb. After catching our breath we sat up and stared out into the distance, smiling.

We soaked up the view as long as possible before it was time to go back down for lunch. The trek down was uneventful as we were eager to quench our hunger and get out of the oncoming heat. We enjoyed lunch with another amazing view and did one last short hike through the Montville Nature Trail, another hiking area within the park, before we hit the road. Our next stop would be home for the next week in Colorado Springs!

Chewy decided he would snuggle with Tony on his way down the dune, while keeping an eye on Mom. #typical

Thanks for reading, more stories from our trip will be coming soon :-).

-Tony & Sarah

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