We seem to do rather a lot of drinking and hiking up mountains, and then boil that down to a few hundred words and pop it up on the “www” for all or more accurately a few to read. There is however days when mountains hardly feature and libations have only a walk on cameo. These rare days may even include a little cultural enlightenment, and others may only be counted outside of the beer and mountain category based on minor technicalities.
Great Sand Dunes National Park falls into the technicality category. A sand dune is not a mountain, though as these particular ones topped out at just over 750 feet, they are rather large and exhausting to climb. At times you would be on hard packed stuff that made for relatively easy going, then you would hit the soft sinky stuff which was invariably accompanied by burning quadriceps and lungs.
There seemed to have been a modicum of miscommunication with just how high we were going to go up the sand dunes. I thought it was obvious, top of highest one. Heather on the other had, can get crap in her shoes walking to Starbucks, so after we got to the first sand “bump” she asked if we were done. After some persuasion and words not befitting a lady we made it to the highest point. Happily enjoying the views across the dunes Heather emptied her shoes and added an extra couple of feet to it’s already impressive height.
The Great Sand Dunes are bazaar visual experience, located in Southern Colorado miles from any coast line and with a stunning mountain (sorry) backdrop. Apparently formed as winds eroded the surrounding mountain range, also another fun fact is that it is physically impossible for a dune to have a steeper than 34 degree pitch, who says JFDI can’t drop a bit of knowledge!!
Between the dunes and our next, non mountain non beer activity we did attempt to do a pair of 14ers in a day. Just a few miles outside of the Great Sand Dunes National Park was a little used trail to Ellingwood Point and Blanca peaks. It followed the Lake Zapata trail for the first 4 miles and then we were to take one of two routes up Ellingwood Point before traversing to Blanca. The only problem is that we could not see a single trail up. We consulted the instructions that we had wisely copied, but the realized that there were an alarming number of technical terms that we each thought the other had researched. We spent the better part of two hours wandering and trying to decode the instructions. When we finally found what we thought to be the trail, we checked the time only to discover that it was too late to try to make the summit and be down by noon. Dejected we headed back to camp, grumbling that the trail Gods seemed to have let the good deed we performed the previous night go unrewarded.
The night before our hike as we sat not looking up any of the words we didn’t understand, a good wind blew into camp, I looked up to see a ground sheet go flying. I dashed towards the escapee ground sheet, as much as one can dash in flip-flops on a road covered in pointy rocks, nearing the ground sheet I glanced right to see a tent blowing away. Painful rocky zig and I caught the tent, Heather was hot on my heals and rounded up the ground sheet. Quick look at the tent revealed that a key component was missing from its construction, pegs, usually pretty helpful. Quick scout of the site and we found the tent bag, with the pegs, all of which were bent. I spent the next little while straightening pegs, pegging out the tent, and finding rocks to fasten guy lines to. The bemused look on the couples face when they returned a few hours later was most entertaining. We went and had a chat with them and they thanked us for the tent rescue, but apparently this good deed bought us no favours on the trail.
Our second activity was quite cultural and educational, we even took two guided tours. Again we were in a Colorado national park, this time it was Mesa Verde, home to 800 plus Puebloan cliff dwellings. The dwellings ranged from little more than caves to large palace like structures. All of this seems to have been home to 3 generations, before they moved on for reasons unknown ~1200AD. The best dwellings were only accessible via guided ranger tours, which explains a) why we went in a guided tour and b) why I learned so much. We visited Balcony House and Cliff Palace, as the name would suggest Cliff Palace was the grandest of the two and probably would have been the one featured on the Puebloan episode of MTV’s cribs.
Both Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde can be done with a day for each, Mesa Verde possibly could have justified a little more time especially as it looked to have a sweet trail to run to the Mesa Top.
Ok off to grab a beer and hike a mountain.