Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Before I tell you about the park, I have a few pictures to catch up on from the night we arrived here. First, the KOA where we're staying has bunnies! Excuse me for just a minute...Squee!!!

Sadie and Smitty watched one nibbling grass just outside our door. They were in sneak 'em up mode...at times with their ears laid flat. That bunny had no idea how lucky he was.

As the sun set, we were treated to some beautiful fiery skies. It looked different depending on which direction we looked. To the back of our rig...

Looking to the passenger side of our rig...

Looking up...

It just got prettier and prettier.

Day is done.

In the morning, looking out the other direction, we saw a beautiful sunrise.

I was busy typing my blog posts to catch up on the week we were out of touch. Smitty was there beside me helping. Ordinarily, he's not allowed on the table, but in the small confines of the truck camper, we cut him some slack. It's the only view he has looking out the back of the camper, and so he's allowed up as long as we aren't eating.

Before taking off to see the national park, I got a start on the 4th of the four stitcheries I brought along with me. This is Farm Fresh Eggs from Bird Brain Designs.

It's a little worrisome having reached my last project when we're only halfway through our trip. Fortunately, we have a quilt shop on today's agenda where I can, hopefully, score a starvation stitchery if I see one I really need.

We drove into town for about an hour. Mike wanted to pick up a decongestant. We've both been bothered by the dry air and the elevation, but Mike has been particularly miserable with stuffy sinuses. We also stopped off at McDonald's for our beloved Egg McMuffin. When we finished our business in town, we headed in the other direction, on our way to the national park. We could see the dunes out Mike's side of the truck. We can also see them from the RV park.

When we turned north on the road leading into the park, we could see the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. This is the tallest peak.

Looking toward the front, we had an even better view of the dunes. These are the tallest dunes in North America. If you'd like to read more about them, you can visit the park web page right here.

I tried to get my customary picture of the sign, but these people were rudely posing for their own picture in front of everything. I'd hoped for another opportunity as we left the park, but nothing doing. It seems everybody wanted their picture in front of the sign.

The park was fairly crowded. It was Sunday, after all, but more importantly, a free day. As it turns out, September 15th is the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month.

We headed first to the Visitor Center, as we try always to do when visiting a national park. For one thing, we're on the hunt for refrigerator magnets and shot glasses. (When I say "we," I mean "me.") Inside were some explanatory signs about the area. I'll only show you a few. This first one relates to the next image below.

And here's the rest of the information related to #2.

They had no shot glasses, but I picked up a refrigerator magnet. Also, we've been on the hunt for a couple of coasters to use when we set frosty drinks on the table, and I found them here.

Also, I enjoyed this t-shirt. This "advice from a dune" was printed on various items in the gift shop.

Behind the visitor center was a short nature trail. The dune field is so large, there isn't really any way to capture it except in panorama. Remember that you can make the image larger by clicking on it.

Here's some more information about how the dunes are formed via the forces of wind and water.

It was a short trail...something of a botanical garden with signs along the way identifying the various plants. We've seen these little wild asters growing all over Colorado.

Here's a new one on me. I've been calling these blooming desert shrubs "sagebrush." As it turns out, it is actually known as "rabbitbrush."

This was an interesting graphic about settlement of this area.

And that was all fine and dandy, but our shadow selves really wanted to get closer to the dunes.

We drove up the road a short distance until we came to a parking area and a short trail leading out to the "dune sheet."

There were a lot of people here...many with large pieces of cardboard and other sand-sliding apparatus. We walked about halfway across the sand sheet, but it was hard on my knee walking on soft sand. After a while, we decided we'd gone far enough and turned back.

Out of curiosity, we drove through the park campground, which was full when I tried to make a reservation last month. Still, it was good to see it. I doubt any of the spaces were large enough to accommodate all 45 feet of our length. Instead, we decided to try hiking out to Zapata Falls just outside the park. There was a short hike in to see it, but it first meant driving up a very rough road. We had the camper still on the truck and decided against it. It did give us a nice view of the mountains behind us, however. Storm clouds seemed to be brewing.

From there, we headed back to the RV park and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We both took naps. I'd been up since 4:45 a.m., and a nap sounded pretty good to me. After our naps, we got Smitty out for a nice long walk. It was a good thing because it started raining late in the afternoon. We've noticed that Colorado tends to get thunder and lightning storms in the late afternoon. They blow through hard and fast, and then the sunshine returns.

Today we're moving west to Dolores, Colorado, where we'll stay two nights while we visit Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. I'm aware that Mesa Verde National Park is right near by, but we visited there in 2006, and so we won't go back this time around. Canyon of the Ancients would be enough reason to visit, but the road will take us through Cortez, where Cortez Quilt Company is located. I planned the itinerary for this trip, and so I routed us through Cortez. I can't remember how I heard about this shop, but something motivated me to print off a page and stuff it into my Colorado folder.

So, off we go. It's a bit of a long drive today at 265 miles, but the quilt shop is only 198 miles. We should arrive well before closing time.


Time Traveling: Taylor Park Central, Texas Lakes and Union Park

Good morning again, my friends. This is the third and final post in a series to catch up from our week without internet access. Let's just get to it, shall we? 

When I left off in my previous post, I mentioned that we'd taken a day off from riding when the weather turned windy and wet. The next morning, was bright and sunny again. I took the opportunity to photograph the hill we could see from the RV, off in the distance. Those sections you see in the image below where there appear to be groomed ski slopes are actually areas where avalanches have flattened the trees. We were at nearly 10,000 feet here, and the park would be closing down as of Sunday (today).

In the image below, I've zoomed in to show you the areas where the trees are regrowing from the avalanche assault.

Since we'd taken the day off from riding, I'd had plenty of time for slow-stitching, and I finished this section of the barn.

Moving my hoop down, I had time to stitch that section to completion as well.

Before week's end, I'd have the whole thing finished. We decided to head down to where the Taylor Park Trading Post was located. There was also a cafe there, where we had a cold breakfast. Yes, it was supposed to be hot, but you know...details. In the gift shop, I picked up my second refrigerator magnet and shot glass of the trip. The shot glass is coated with a silvery coating, which is why the lighting is so weird in this next photo.

Also, the night before, I'd baked a skillet chocolate chip cookie for two. For the first time, I was using the old iron skillet I'd pulled from some old camping equipment and reseasoned a couple of months ago. And here at nearly 10,000 feet, I needed to make some adjustments for baking.

As I mentioned, I could get internet access on my phone, and so I inquired of my friend The Google what one does to make adjustments for high altitude baking. I increased the amount of flour, decreased the amount of sugar, increased the amount of liquid by adding a whole egg instead of just the yolk. Also, I increased the baking temperature and decreased the baking time, and voila! It worked! (Polishes fingernails on shirt.)

We didn't ride until after lunch, and we kept the day short. We were still recovering from our ride to Cumblerland Pass summit a few days before. We took a relatively easy trail, identified in our guide book as "Taylor Park Central." Here's another shot of the mountain we could see from the RV park. Here, we'd ridden off some distance, and you can see the RV park below the mountain.

We saw butterflies by the thousands. This first one is commonly known as a greater fritillary. You can read more about it and find some more images right here.

This next one was an exercise in frustration to photograph. They only seem to open their wings in flight. Still, I have some Facebook friends from high school who are very knowledgeable about these kinds of things. They identified this butterfly, probably correctly, as the clouded sulphur. You can read more about it and see some better photographs right here.

In the sunshine, their wings appeared to glow like neon.

We were attempting to ride a loop, and we had to turn around a retrace our path several times before finding the correct turn. We passed by this falling down log cabin. Mike observed that it would have been "drafty."

Walking around the back, it looked like this:

The next day, we rode on the Texas Lake/Texas Creek trail. Right away, we saw a moose, which was thrilling.

On the ride out, we saw just this one.

On the ride back, we saw another at a different place. While we were watching, a smaller, younger one came into view.

We stood watching for a long time as the younger one moved into the clearing so we could get a better look.

Some passing riders told us these moose had been here for about five days.

We were on our way to Texas Lakes, and again, the scenery was astonishingly beautiful.

When we reached Texas Lakes (there were three of them), we got off our ATV's, ate our Clif bars, and had a rest before heading back the way we came.

Our trip out had us traversing Texas Creek. It was about a foot deep. We had to cross again on our way back, and Mike took this video. The scariest part was right at the beginning when I had to make a quick right turn and then head down a steep embankment before reaching the water. I was wearing waterproof shoes, but Mike had to pick up his feet. If you can't see the video, then click right here.

Riding on, this is a view of Texas Creek. It looks like a good place to be a moose, doesn't it?

While we were near the lake, we found some of Smitty's favorite kind of grass, and took some back to him for a nibble. Of course, Miss Sadie had to be in on the act.

The next day was our last day of riding before leaving Taylor Park Reservoir. We decided to head in a southerly direction to Union Park. Along the way, we passed this cabin, which was a part of a working cattle ranch. There were horses and horse trailers present, but we didn't see any people.

We passed through a series of gates that needed to be opened and then closed again as we passed through. We were riding up to some beaver ponds. In the image below, you can see another beaver dam. There were beaver dams everywhere we found water, but we didn't see any beavers.

Higher up, there were several large beaver ponds.

In the image below is just one of the very large beaver dams we saw here.

Off in the distance, we could see where they'd chewed down a number of trees to build their dams.

Beavers have an important job in the ecosystem, but it's been difficult for humans to find a way to peacefully coexist with them. There are researchers hard at work to restore beaver habitat, and surprisingly, to reduce flooding with their help. If you're interested in learning more about beavers, I can highly recommend this book I read recently.

On our way back, we passed by the same cabin and met up with these old-timer cowboys. We thoroughly enjoyed the brief conversation we had with them. They told us the cabin was built in 1863 (think Civil War period). It has been updated with vinyl windows, but the outhouse can still be seen in the back. They are getting ready to herd the cattle to a lower elevation. They told us about the area, and also reminisced about the "cowboy life." They made it sound idyllic.

The one on the right said that when he removed the saddle from his horse at the end of the day to bed down for the night, he knew he was doing it exactly the same way as the cowboy from 200 years ago. The one on the left asked us to "wait a minute" while he went inside. When he came back, he handed me a peach grown in his own peach grove.

So what could I do, but bake some Individual Peach Cobblers for two. They were delicious. I used this recipe, just cutting it down to size for one very large and beautiful peach.

It was a nice way to end our time at Taylor Park Reservoir.

And that brings you up to date. In my previous post, I mentioned we are now in Alamosa, Colorado, just outside Great Sand Dunes National Park. This morning, we'll get an early start and spend the day in the park. I'll have more to tell you tomorrow morning.