Let's put this out there out front. The Great Sand Dunes are awesome. Really super cool, crazy nifty, and ab fab. I will have pictures up for it soon enough. My camera is demanding a recharged battery before it will turn them over to me. In the mean time, you get a blog post. Lucky you!
So Tirzah, Dean, Jill, and Jeff went down to the dunes on Friday night while I was learning about AIR and buying groceries. Gavin, Sarah, and I met Saturday morning with their dog Dash in tow. We hopped into Daria and sped down there and got into camp shortly before noon. We camped at the Great Sand Dunes Lodge campground, which was a private campground and not quite so regimented as the Monument campground. It was a nice little park, with innovative bathrooms (an old boxcar) and plenty of shade and space between sites.
We ate some lunch and headed up to do the mile round trip hike to Zapata Falls. The hike, until the last 100 yards, is pretty easy. Then you get to slide along a wet rock wall (or just walk in the creek) and then walk up the icy stream to the falls which are hidden back in a little slot canyon. Fortunately I had my waterproof boots and they did the trick. Unfortunately, even waterproof boots can't help you when you step up to your shin in ice cold water. The falls were very impressive. The sound and spray filled up the slot canyon and the sky was reduced to a narrow gap in the rock above. I chanced taking my camera in and it seems to have come out all right, despite getting a heavy misting.
We squished our way back down to the car and headed to over to the dunes. Since exposing my camera to water had gone so well, I figured I'd follow it up with another mortal enemy of photographic equipment: sand. As I said before, the dunes are incredible. They are unbelievably tall and uncannily located. You have these several hundred foot tall dunes juxtaposed with the rugged peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
I switched over to sandals and we splashed through Mosca Creek and started up to the top of High Dune, the second highest dune in the field. Man, that is a work out. I made sure my respiratory organs were clear by rapidly breathing in and out. Thankfully they were, but I continued to verge on hyperventilation just to be sure. I also ascended most of the slopes practically bent over double, just to inspect the quality of the sand, of course. I took off my sandals and went on barefoot.
Jeff's dog Fritz was impressive in his stamina. He's a little dachshund, and had to scale the slopes by essentially jumping up them, but he stuck to it. We summited the dune and were treated to spectacular views. Jill and Dean headed back down the route we had come and the rest of us struck out to some other nearby dunes for a roundabout way back. Man, going down dunes is a lot more fun than going up, at least when the sand is soft. We were also treated to lots of awesome views. Just jumping around on the dunes is fun stuff, and watching the dogs play on the slopes was great. We even ran into a guy I knew from DU.
When we were descending, we found that hard sand is much more difficult to descend on, and that there is no easy way to tell if the sand is soft or hard other than stepping on it. This led to some amusing runs down hills. It also led to me leaving a callus or two behind on the dunes. My heels will either develop into giant blisters soon or just remain some newly exfoliated skin. But the dunes are absolutely a blast. I'd go back there soon.
What wasn't a blast was that evening. We made dinner, my selection being a vintage MRE that Andy had given me who knows when. It wasn't bad, and so far there have been no ill effects. Afterwards we chatted around the fire and went to bed around 10:30. From somewhere up the hill came loud conversation and even louder laughter. As I lay on my air mattress, mosquitoes buzzed me, so loud they sounded like they were inside the hat I put over my face. Despite the cool mountain air, I was roasting inside my sleeping bag. Needless to say, sleep was not in the agenda. All of this went on until around 1:30. Finally, at the urging of my bladder, I paid a visit to the train car and then followed the sound of the braying laughter up the hillside to the offending camp. It wasn't hard.
While I was laying in my sweaty sleeping bag listening to the nitrous-huffing jack monkeys up the hill, I had been playing out various scenarios in my head, most involving poisons and/or acts of violence and destruction. I have put up with drunks outside my window, because they go away after a half hour or so. These inconsiderate hyenas however, were not going anywhere and showed no signs of shutting up, so something needed to be done if I wanted any semblance of sleep. Now was a time for (shudder) confrontation! However, among the panoply of insults, invective, and incendiaries I had thought up in my sweaty tossing and turning, I decided to go the Christian route. I just asked how they were doing, asked if they could keep it down because it was 1:30 and we had been listening to them for 3 hours. And thank you, Jesus, they apologized and were quiet for the rest of the night. Of course, around 7:30 the next morning they started up again, but everyone in the campground was up by then. But still, peace was restored the campground, thanks to Nils the Brave! (heh. whatever. just going up there was a major accomplishment for me, with major credit going to my bladder for getting me out of bed.)
When I returned to my sleeping bag and started taking off my boots, a jingling shape ran up to me out of the darkness. It was Jeff's dachsund Fritz. Jeff was sleeping in a hammock and had told me how Fritz would nestle down inside the sleeping bag, but sometimes get up and out of the hammock. Now Fritz was there outside of the hammock and trembling something fierce, so I let him into the sleeping bag and he took up residence between my calves. Normally I toss and turn before getting comfortable, but now I was sort of locked in place lest I kick Fritz in the head or crush him. After lots of careful maneuvering, I finally got in a comfortable spot and was able to grab a couple hours of sleep.
Then it was my turn to get cold. The heat had gone out of me and a breeze had come up. However, Fritz had commandeered the toe of my bag and slid off the end of my air mattress, so I couldn't pull the bag up around me without making dachshund jelly. Thankfully, dawn was around the corner and I got up and watched a magnificent dawn blaze out from the mountains and light the dunes. I stoked the fire and fed it a steady diet of twigs while everyone else slept. Even Fritz, who poked his head out after I left decided that the sane creatures were the ones still in bed and he nested down in the vacated bag. A later trip to the train car confirmed that I looked the way I felt. Thank goodness for hats.
Anyway, we made some breakfast and packed up. The Friday crew headed out, but Gavin, Sarah, Dash, and myself hung around the dunes for a little while before taking scenic 285 back up to Denver. I then spent a restful afternoon removing pitch from my new air mattress and unpacking the camp gear. I am now number 383 in line for one of the 288 copies of the new Harry Potter book at the library. Looks like I'll be avoiding reviews of the book for a while. Well, that'll give me time to get the pictures up, right?