Saturday, May 15, 2010

Many Shoes Full of Sand Later


Last summer I flew to Alamosa, Colorado with Nate on one of his overnight trips for work. Why would I want to spend a night in Alamosa, Colorado, you ask. Well, because I could visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park of course! I had seen a few pictures online of others who had visited the park, and I was pretty excited to see this stream (pictured above) that runs through the dunes. On arrival, I was disappointed to find that the stream had dried up for the summer. You could locate water by digging a hole about 3 feet deep though. Hurray. Next time we'll have to visit in spring when the stream is in full force. We still enjoyed our time at the dunes, stream or no stream! Alamosa is also home to the San Luis Valley Brewing Company (more on that later). Even though Nate had to work, we enjoyed our free time in Alamosa!

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located a short distance by car from Alamosa, so we rented a car while in town to get us to the dunes. The wide open views create great anticipation for what is to come. I kept asking, "Where the heck are the dunes? You can't see them." Needless to say, I was impatient and ready to climb! The sand dunes finally came into view, and I was surprised to see this little brown patch of sand tucked up against these gigantic mountains, which seemed to dwarf the size of the dunes, but do not be deceived! They are much larger and expansive than you can fathom. We later realized what we could not tell from the car ride to the park.

Upon arrival at the dunes, we read a few of the signs to inform visitors of the natural habitat and what to expect while climbing the dunes. I don't remember how long they estimated it would take a climber to reach the highest sand dune, but I do know that Nate and I shattered that average time with our incredible speed and willpower to reach the top. (Actually it was my crazy idea and drive to go all the way to the top, and by the time we were halfway there Nate realized that I really was crazy and not joking. But I convinced him to climb to the top with me, and I think he forgave me once we were there.) Our round trip time was about 3/4 climbing and 1/4 sprinting down the dunes as fast as possible. It was.... awesome! Nate's co-pilot, Ben, came along on the trip to the dunes, but was ill-prepared in flip flops. Warning: Do not attempt to climb the dunes in flip flops! Your feet will be burned to a crisp, because the temperature of the sand reaches temperatures close to that of the surface of the sun. (joking... I have no idea of the actual temps. Just that it is hot!) I think the park rangers recommend hiking boots, but Nate and I wore sneakers and those worked alright, minus the shoe fulls of sand we had to empty every 20 minutes or so. The signs in the parking lot did not warn against that. Oh well, it was just a sign.



Something that really took me by surprise, while climbing, was the wind. No, not that there was wind, but the quiet that the gusting wind created. We could not hear any sounds other than each other and the wind. It blew me away (no pun intended) how powerful the wind was and to realize that the wind was shaping the dunes around us as we climbed. The next time we visit, the wind will have re-shaped the dunes into something new. Pretty amazing if you ask me.



I was determined, once laying eyes on the sand dunes from the parking lot, to reach the highest dune in sight. The achievement alone was a prize, and who knew what else we would find at the top. At this point, can I remind everyone how difficult it is to walk/run on sand? If you have ever run on a beach you know what I mean. Now imagine walking uphill in sand. Ah yes. It felt like maybe we were walking backwards on an upward moving escalator. I just told Nate we had to keep climbing if we ever wanted to reach the top. We could do it! All the while, the wind pelted our legs with what felt like tiny pieces of glass. Just when we thought we had the highest dune in sight, we would reach it to find a higher one. They surely didn't seem that far away from the parking lot. Oh well. We climbed and climbed... and climbed... and climbed... all the while emptying our shoes what seemed at least 100 times. It got to the point where it felt like the wind was pushing us downhill and it was working against our climbing, but let me tell you it made our downhill sprint that much faster! (so worth it if you ask me) Nate and I ended up holding hands and basically pushing/pulling each other up the highest dunes. At this point, Ben was just a speck in the distance. I knew we needed some motivation. So I reminded Nate that we were going to the San Luis Valley Brewing Co. afterwards, and that we would deserve the "ice cold beer" that much more after this. On our final ascent, we were chanting "Ice cold beer! Ice cold beer!" In no time, we finally realized we had reached the top of the highest dune, and boy was that amazing! The sand pelted us from the West, the wind noise was deafening, and we were shocked to see infinite sand dunes in the distance. Even though we found that we only "conquered" a small piece of the dunes, we were still pretty happy with reaching our goal. Not to mention, the view was incredible! I knew the climb would be worth it all along.



Don't get me wrong, the climb was... fun... and everything, but the descent was exhilarating! Like I mentioned previously, it took us about 1/4 of the time to reach the bottom than it did to climb to the top. An obvious reward of the tough climb, happened to be the run/dance down the dunes. I'll blame my awkwardness on tired legs. My upper body moved much faster than my legs, and I almost toppled over while attempting to run down the dunes. Nate's long legs carried him with ease. On numerous times I laughed so hard I almost wet myself. (And we were a long way from any restroom) I was actually laughing at Nate, who was laughing at me and my awkwardness. We have the pictures to prove it, but I'm not going to show any pictures of me running down the dunes. Nate told me I ran like a girl, and I retaliated by telling him I am a girl. Good one, Nate. After all of the fun and games, we were back where we started. But with a much greater appreciation and respect for the towering dunes behind us.

While driving away from the park, Ben said he was laughing at us running down the dunes. At least we could provide him with some entertainment for the day. We came across a herd of deer while leaving, and I'd have to say it was an amazingly beautiful way to end our time at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I'll bet the deer aren't crazy enough to attempt climbing the dunes, and their bare feet probably just sink in the sand anyway. They seemed pretty content to just graze the grounds. I couldn't help but notice how the grassy area blended right into the dunes. It made me wonder where on earth all of that sand came from? I guess I have some research to do now.



Nate, Ben, and I enjoyed our handsome reward at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company in Alamosa. The guys just had a pint or two, since they had to fly the next day. I, of course, had to try a little of everything and went with the sampler!




All in all, I would say we had a rather successful trip. The Great Sand Dunes were more than I expected, even though the stream was dried up for the summer. Guess we'll have to visit in spring. Although I'm not sure how easy it is to cross the stream and then replace your shoes onto wet/sandy feet. Could be a new challenge, and I think we could do it.

The peace and quiet, while climbing the dunes, was unbelievable. It was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of Denver. We accomplished our goal of reaching the highest dune to find that the dunes were much larger than we ever thought. When it comes to the creation of sand dunes, never underestimate the power of wind. On the flight out of Alamosa, we flew by the sand dunes. I laughed at how small they looked from the air.

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