Aug 042010

Saturday, July 31, 2010

It’s not raining! I was very happy to wake up to dry weather, though still cloudy. As I waited for the Oasis store and camp headquarters (the private campsite I arrived at last night) to open I walked around and took some landscape photos, noticing the fog sitting on the side of the mountain where the campsites were supposed to be. The car wasn’t amazingly comfortable, but I was happy to hot have wet gear.

I had a marvelous shower at the Oasis facilities and then proceeded on to Great Sand Dunes National Monument. I was rather shocked at the $3 entrance fee that would last the whole week!

The park is rather large, with only a portion of the park containing the sand dunes. I didn’t realize the park included forested trails as well. But I’m not here for trees, I’m here for sand.

At only 10am it was feeling toasty under the sun which had escaped the clouds. I realized that I could wear shorts as there would be no tall grasses to brush my legs as I hiked passed and I headed into the sand. Hiking on sand is similar to snowshoeing because there are no trails and you do not harm the environment by walking your own path. However, everyone was headed to the highest sand dune where a 360-degree view of the surrounding area was promised by the visitor’s center. So, that’s where I was going to.

I immediately noted that the dampish sand was much easier to walk on than the sand dunes I walked on it Australia. In Australia, we took a trip through sand dunes to go sand toboganning which was simply sliding, head first, down the dune on a long piece of wood that was waxed. I remember in AU, each stem up the dune was like taking one step up and sliding half a step down. It was an insane climb! Well, with this somewhat damp, though rapidly drying sand, it was much easier to step. What got me most was the altitude. We were about 7,500 feet up and my Houston lungs needed frequent breaks as I hiked in the sand for 1.5 miles up 750 feet across several dunes.

I had fun both enjoying the landscape and people watching. The dunes were gorgeous. The sand in some places was rippled by wind and the clouds made interesting shadows on the dunes. I took many, many photos while I breathed heavily during my breaks. The people were interesting as well. I saw little toddlers playing in the sand as if it were a beach. I saw 8 year old boys sprinting past their parents who were calling after them in huffs and puffs. Many people carried sleds in order to slide down much like I went sand toboganning in AU. The sleds ranged from cardboard (which the ranger station said wasn’t the best) to plastic snow sleds, to tops of coolers, to obviously special boards meant to slide on sand. But the most memorable was a group of teenagers who were climbing to the top. The oldest was carrying a snowboard and boots! The others had plastic snow sleds. They heaved their way up the dune chanting, or more descriptively, gasping the words: “I’m alive. I’m alert. And I feel great!” I have to say that that chant stuck in my head too as I climbed to the top.
At the top of the tallest dune, I found many people sitting in the sand relaxing. I was very impressed by the view of all the sand dunes in the distance. I was impressed by spots of white who were obviously humans out there hiking through all that sand. I was even more impressed when a family arrived that all knew gymnastics. Down a slight incline, they all did backflips, roundoffs, and other amazing stunts while we all watched and clapped. Amazing! And to do it down an incline of sand! Of course many people were scouting out areas to slide down and the slides looked quite thrilling into deep pits of sand that then had to be scaled to get out.

Finally, I left. Coming down the dune was much easier than going up, but my hiking boots were full of sand by the time I reached the bottom! I dumped as much sand as possible in the parking lot, had lunch, and then started on my drive north.
Most of today’s 300 miles drive to Rocky Mountain National Park will be on interstate 25 which means less stops. I did stop when I saw a lightning storm in the distance, but was still out of the rain. I tried to get a photo, but never did get lucky. Oh well, I will eventually find a storm to photograph. I listened to the rest of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I reached Colorado Springs and Denver around 5p and just in time for the evening traffic. Oh well. I looked at my navigation and was excited to see that I was very likely to arrive in the park before dark. Setting up the tent in light is much easier than in the dark!
I did indeed arrive in Estes Park before dark and boy was it crowded! There was some horse show this weekend and the fairgrounds were full of RVs and horse trailers. In fact, the whole town was fully of RVs in various private campgrounds. I’ve never seen so many in one place before. Also, everyone was out on the town. The small town’s sidewalks were so stuffed with people that I was reminded of New York City.

At the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center just outside the park I was disappointed to find out that the campgrounds were all full. I knew it would be popular as there were no reservations available online and only the first-come, first-serve camping was available. I had arrived too late, however. The ranger told me about some overflow camping 13 miles away around the side of the park and I headed off in that direction to find it full as well. On my way back I stopped everywhere looking for a tent site vacancy, or even an Inn vacancy to no avail. Finally I came back to Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at least to get ready for bed and consider sleeping in my car again.

I bumped into a ranger who was checking up on the area and he told me that indeed though I was not allowed to sleep in this parking lot in my car, that other people did it all the time and I should too. He told me that the rangers would stop patrolling in just an hour and if one stopped me I was to say “I’m sorry, but I’ve been driving all day and I am afraid of getting in an accident if I drive anymore.” Apparently that’s the secret pass code. This was quite true as I was exhausted. Luckily no rangers came to patrol the area and I even found a more comfortable spot to sleep in the car. The nightly weather was in the 50s, so with my sleeping bag as a cover, I was quite comfortable in the car.

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