Waking up at your sister-in-law’s house and thinking, “This will be the day we finally see the southwest,” was a feeling unlike any other feeling in the world. This is the west of film iconography, the west in our history books, and the west of family members’ stories you have heard all your life. This is the west you’ve been thinking about experiencing as long as you can remember. And with all that excitement, you grab your man, grab your dog, and hit the highway.
We began our drive from Canyon City to Salida, CO following along the Arkansas River. This road offered scenic passes and miles of mountains, the likes of which we had never encountered before. Though our stay in the Colorado Springs area offered many exciting vistas, nothing could have prepared us for this drive out to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Peaks both jagged and smooth, drawing ever closer to our car, made for some harrowing curves through the mountain passes. It’s the windy and curvy roads we like to think of like roller coasters. A fun ride like this one would not have been complete without having some delightful GrandyOats Coconola to snack on in the car!
Once we drove out of the mountain crossing, the land really began to open up as expansive grasslands ran along both sides of the road. It was in this vast, open prairie valley we stumbled across the UFO Watchtower and decided to take a peek. Pulling into this nearly abandoned lot (save for one couple who promptly departed as we arrived) we knew we had come across one of the roadside oddities people tell you about. There was an elevated platform for having a better view of potential UFO sightings as well as a garden of mementos people had placed to rest for an eternity of hot, dusty, and maybe extraterrestrial(?) usage. The Adventure CRU left an object behind with the understanding that no one would ever move or disturb our memento. If you are curios what we left, you’ll have to visit the garden yourself!
Back in the car (gladly, because we all almost blew away atop the UFO viewing platform), we headed to our camping spot on public land within sight of the Great Dunes mentioned above. We saw the towering reddish dunes off in the distance as we drove towards our camp. Upon arrival, we were pleased to find several open campsites with ample views of the grasslands and Blanca Peak right beside our camp.
If you are wondering how to go about finding public land or BLM land camping (BLM means Bureau of Land Management), it is quite simple. You search the area you’d like to “dry camp,” or camp without water and electricity, and see if there are any public lands you can stay on. If so, odds are people have camped there before you and will have written about it on www.freecampsites.net. You cannot camp on any vegetation and should pack out everything you pack in. We plan to write a blog post all about this soon as we gain more experience!
We slept hard after a hearty meal and some stargazing. Note: Colorado and other western states have some of the BEST stargazing we have ever seen. First order of business was the camp breakdown, breakfast shakes, and then off to the GREAT SAND DUNES! We lathered up with sunscreen, wore our UPF 50+ clothes, and packed lots of fresh water. The dunes combined with full sun were no joke with temperatures well over 90 degrees, we wanted to keep this wild adventure short and sweet. The Great Sand Dunes are the tallest dunes in North America and are a focal point of the San Luis Valley. I carried Zorro in his new doggie carrier (since leaving him in the car was NOT an option) and Troy carried the rest of the gear in our awesome FlowFold Optimist day pack. Second Note: We want to give a big thank you to FlowFold for providing us with this great day pack because we’ve used it literally every day. From 2 waters, our day safety kit, keys, 2 FlowFold wallets, Zorro’s gear, and snacks, this little guy holds everything we need for a day trip!
It’s a lot of fun to explore the dunes, which cover over 30 square miles of land, though we didn’t make it nearly that far. Walking in sand this thick and shifty really takes it out of you! Troy climbed to the highest peak he could, only to see beyond that peak were dozens more even taller. Shade and water were our top priorities when getting off the dunes, and after fulfilling those needs we had a quick lunch (homemade salmon jerky, apples, and GrandyOats) then hit the road yet again. This time, we were headed to Rio Grande National Forest and then the San Juan National Forest immediately after. These forests looked inviting for the most part, however we were just cutting through them to get to our next destination, the Four Corners region and Navajo Nation. Keep an eye on the blog for another update coming soon, and until then may you have peace in your heart and happiness on the road.