I hope your week is off to a good start! Eric and I had another crazy last week: flying back from California, moving back into the dorms at Carleton for a few days, graduating, and driving to northern Minnesota for Eric’s family reunion. We’re currently enjoying a brief vacation lakeside before some grad celebrations with my family, and then flying back out to the Bay Area because Eric starts work on Monday! Phew.
Anyhow, let’s just pretend we’re back on our road trip without a care in the world. Last week I shared our trip to Custer State Park, SD. From there, we drove to Eric’s parents’ house near Boulder, CO, where we stayed for a few days before leaving for Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado.
The drive from Boulder to the park is about four hours, so we left early-ish in the morning to arrive around lunchtime. Eric’s parents checked into their hotel in the nearby town of Alamosa, we ate a picnic lunch, and we were off to the Dunes.
However, we’d picked one of the worst days and times of the entire year to visit the park: the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. When we arrived around 2pm, the line of cars at the entrance was nearly a mile long! Tip #1: Do not visit the Great Sand Dunes during Memorial Day weekend. There was no way we were waiting around that long, so we decided on plan B: a nearby park with an awesome waterfall.
The drive to the falls was nerve-wracking: a gravel road with steep climbs and hardly enough room for two cars to pass. But the hike was great fun once we were out of the car! The walk to the stream was only a half mile (appropriate for little kids and older folks alike) and there were some really beautiful views of the plains.
Once you get to the stream, there’s a very narrow and rocky path leading back to the waterfall. If you’ve ever been bouldering before, it’s basically a real-life version of the sport! Challenging, but fun. Then you’ll have to hike through the frigid water—snowmelt, in late May—to actually see Zapata Falls. I wasn’t brave enough 😛 But Eric tried it out!
The Dunes: Day 1
After Zapata Falls, we decided to give the Great Sand Dunes another chance and amazingly, by 4:30pm, nearly everyone had cleared out! We paid the $15 entrance fee, easily found a spot in the parking lot, and were on our way to see lots of sand.
To get to the Dunes, you have to wade through a wide, shallow creek—so don’t wear long pants! The weather that day was cold and windy and the water was almost unbearably cold, but the views were so worth it. I was pretty tired from our earlier hike, so I watched as Eric and his dad ran up the Dunes to leap off of them (here’s an epic photo series of Eric jumping ;P) and took some pictures.
Camping in San Juan National Forest
After a surprisingly good dinner at Chili’s—who knew they had so many healthier, gluten-free options?!—Eric and I set off on the 90-minute drive to our campsite. Tip #2: If you do plan to visit the Dunes during its busy season in May and June, book a campsite a few months in advance. We booked two weeks in advance, and San Juan National Forest was as close as we could get!
Regardless of the inconvenience, the drive was seriously beautiful. My pictures don’t do it justice at all. The sun was setting, the mountains were still snowy, and the wildlife was out in full force (I saw mountain goats in the wild for the first time!).
We paid $40 for our beautiful campsite in West Fork Campground (you can only reserve a weekend, so we paid for two nights even though we only stayed one), but there was no entrance fee for the forest. I’d definitely pick this campground again, despite the drive. Check out that view when we woke up in the morning!
The Dunes: Day 2
We woke up early the next morning to drive back to the Great Sand Dunes. It was much warmer and sunnier that day, so wading in the stream was actually refreshing! Although we arrived fairly early, there were already dozens of people camped out near the stream with their towels, folding chairs, pails and shovels. It would be the perfect place to bring little kids for the day!
After a good night’s sleep, I had more energy, so I hiked up into the Dunes with Eric and his dad. It’s harder hiking than you’d think! Especially when you’re walking uphill, you slide back about half a step for every step you take. There were lots of visitors sand-sledding (looked like so much fun!), jumping off the Dunes, and just relaxing in the hot sun. It’s like being at the beach, without the ocean.
We stayed for a few hours, but soon it was time for Eric’s parents to head home and for us to head to our next stop: Mesa Verde National Park. But my verdict of the park? It’s not somewhere you can spend hours and hours and be entertained, but it’s definitely a site to see. If you’re driving through southern Colorado at some point, check it out!
But let’s catch up! Tell me your highlights from the past week!