Like many readers here at MiceChat, we take a lot of park centric vacations. In 2016 that was certainly true, but our objectives weren’t theme parks, but National Parks, specifically, the four park’s of Colorado. So let’s get underway with part one of this adventure.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

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You know how fantasy and reality are often at odds? Sure you do. Like how the desert Yosemite Sam pursues Bugs Bunny across is these really cool sand dunes, but the desert you saw from your parent’s car while driving through Arizona in the backseat with your annoying little sister was just packed dirt and scrub brush? There are some expanses of sand to be found, though, since fantasy is sometimes connected to reality. We saw some in this space from Death Valley, but the most vast coverage is found at Colorado’s newest National Park, recently promoted from National Monument status, Great Sand Dunes.

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Located in the high desert of the southern part of the state, the dunes are the result of a fortuitous confluence of the shallow Medeno (MED en oh) Creek that flows around both sides of the sand, the shape of the surrounding mountains and the prevailing winds which first conspired to create, and now preserve the dunes.

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It is necessary to traverse the creek, never terribly deep and practically anemic in late June, in order to access the dunes. The water flows with a peculiar pattern of surges. Seems that the dunes aren’t all dry, because the water creates small submerged antidunes which will ultimately breach creating the surges. Floating objects can be fun when the water is higher; bug spray can be wanted anytime.

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The highest point immediately visible, the imaginatively named High Dune, stands a shade short of 700 feet. Uphill in the sand at altitude is a hard slog, and at about 400 feet I questioned my commitment, a question answered by the paltry few ounces of water remaining in my bottle. Colin had even less, as in none, but relied on helpful members of a Scout troop who were apparently unwilling to watch a young man die of thirst before their very eyes. And I must credit him as the only person I witnessed even attempt to ride a sand board down from the top. Meanwhile, I sat with my sand sled and plotted our descent from my perch as I waited for him to finish sliding and falling and sliding and falling falling sliding falling……I waited for a while.

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Sand board, you ask? Yep, it’s a desert version of the snow toy used in the more alpine parts of the state. And for those preferring their fun with a lower center of gravity, there is the aforementioned snow sled.Here we see a demonstration of the proper use of a sand board

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And here we see a demonstration of the improper use of a sand sled (Photo by Colin Ricketts).

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Miraculously, your humble narrator landed upright and kept going, three separate times. But it wasn’t just me doing those barrel rolls.

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The folks at the rental shop said keep your feet on the front of the sled; because if you put your feet down, you’ll flip it. So I ultimately put my feet down, gained some control of the blasted thing, and remained upright. Later, as we relaxed on the first small ridge where sliding was possible, I decided to share our toys with a group of children despite the unfortunate presence of an Auburn University cap (Roll Tide!) on one of them. Turned out it was a couple of moms (wonder where in the desert they dumped the dads’ bodies) from my hometown traveling Colorado counterclockwise with their kids. And I observed them riding the sled on their knees. Trying this later, I realized that the more I disregarded the rental shop, the more controlled, fast and fun sand sledding became. Unfortunately, the reality of or water supply soon superseded “just one more ride”, and we reluctantly made our way back to a more solid surface. (Photo by Colin Ricketts)

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Driving just outside the park boundary, I suddenly doubled back to investigate a sign indicating Zapata Falls. An unpaved track stretching beyond a sign reading “Rough Road” awaited, perhaps not the best option for a 10 year old Prius. Fortunately, my 10 year old Prius was parked in California, and the rental SUV I was driving was totally game for Rough Road.

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Less than four miles later we reached a little parking lot. The falls themselves are on the small side compared to what can be found elsewhere in the state, but come with their own adventurous component. The stream flowing below the falls and the trail for viewing? Same thing. So into the frigid water that was recently snow went the tootsies, eyes on the prize of the nearest rock to shiver upon. Then back into the water, that seems not quite so cold as before at first, but is cruelly even colder at the next perch.

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Having already experienced drowning a camera in a creek, and drawing as much from that moment as I felt was needed, I only made it into the front of the slot of stone to witness the lowest cascade, but more can be seen with a good tolerance to wet and cold.

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The mosquitoes also had a strong foothold near the water, and, hey, it’s those kids from Bama again. It was a fun little unplanned diversion. While we knew many of our destinations on this journey, I’d intentionally left space in the plans for spontaneous moments just like this. It was a great start to a long trip, and we had a spring in our step as…..wait, what time is it? Right, they close at 6, we must immediately stop disregarding the rental shop and return these items STAT. I bet we make it with 20 minutes to spare. We’ll be ready for our next destination, Mesa Verde National Park. So let’s meet back here next time for Part 2 of Colorado Clockwise.

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