<b>May 13, 2009
Great Sand Dunes National Park</b>
-By my girlfriend Mel-
So Josh and I went to Sand Dunes National Monument this week on our days off...I'd never been before, and he'd been wanting to go back, so we decided to have fun and get out of the house for a couple days.
It's a really bizarre sight when it first comes into view...30 square miles of massive sand dunes, bordered on one side by towering 14,000 ft mountains, and on the other by flat prairie that stretches on for miles. It doesn't look as if it belongs in Colorado somehow. Apparently, the sand runs off the mountains in the streams, and the wind from the prairie sweeps in right back to the mountains feet. Once you get over how out of place it looks, it's actually quite beautiful. Looking out, you see peak after peak of rolling sand, their sharp ridges clearly defined by the dark shadows below them, and behind it all, the rugged tops of white dusted mountains. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before.
Anyway, after checking in for out backpacking permit, we headed off down a narrow dirt road that wound it's way through twisted pines and clumps of sagebrush toward our overnight parking spot, also the last place a normal car could retreat before the road turned into a dangerous 4-wheeler trail. Fittingly, the sign beside the pull-off spot read dramatically, "The Point of No Return". Most encouraging. Hiking across sand (going up) is kind of like using a stair-stepper at the gym...it's freaking hard and you don't go anywhere for about 5 minutes...and then you look up and notice that you're maybe a third of the way up the small hill you are attempting to climb. But it's fun. We decided not to head out as far into the dunes as we'd planned (lucky for us later, as it turned out), since we wanted time to make camp and find a good location for some sunset pictures. And the view from the ridge we found was breathtaking...we were just laughingly hoping we'd be able to find our way back to camp afterward. The whole time we were shooting, the wind was picking up, blowing the sand in mini tornadoes that whipped around and around until you couldn't figure out where it was coming from. We figured it would die down as dusk came...but by the time the sun was almost down it was twice as bad.
I've never experienced anything like it in my live. The wind was so strong it was almost impossible to walk, and the sand was blowing at us like bullets. We knew what direction we needed to head in, but every time we tried to face that way we were practically forced to the ground. By the time we made it back to camp we were both freaked. Don't ask me how our tent was still there...we'd left some gear in it and I guess that was the only thing keeping it from disappearing. It was still getting worse, so even though it was dark we decided to try and make the hike out. Let me tell you, without the mountains in the distance to judge by, there's no way we would have been able to make it out of there. You couldn't see, or breath, or even look up from the ground. And the thing with dunes is that there are so many ridges to cross, and the wind whips the sand up the back and over the top like a solid line of bullets. As we staggered down the back of the highest ridge, we could feel the dune literally rumbling and shacking under our feet; it was unsettling, especially since we couldn't even see the bottom. Somehow, we managed to stumble our way down to the lower dunes, and kneel down to catch our breath and try to get our bearings. In order to get back to the car, we still had to cross the creek surrounding the dunes, then head up the tree covered embankment on the far side and hopefully hit the dirt road. We took a good look at the mountains in the background and slowly kept going. I have to say I've probably never been as freaked out before...it's hard to describe how bad it really was. I was starting to wonder if the sign earlier was going to end up becoming literal.
Wading any type of moving water is not fun in the dark...but by the time we heard flowing water we were far to relieved to care about getting wet...we just slogged right through. We had another scare as we started to climb up the far bank. Josh's headlamp caught a pair of glowing yellow eyes amid the trees and we both froze. There are most decidedly mountain lions out here, and after the time we'd had so far, I was momentarily certain we were going to be eaten and they'd be finding us dead under some random sage bush the next day. And then the eyes moved, and we saw a small antelope staring back at us curiously. Ok...breath. Calm down.
It seemed to take us forever to trek back up that road...meanwhile the wind was still going nuts and trees and bushes where waving...to say it was a dark and stormy night would be an understatement.
Even though I knew we were gonna be ok as soon as we hit the road, neither of us really relaxed until we headed around that final bend and saw the car's taillights gleaming.
Talk about a crazy adventure! Looking back on it, I'd say it was just as thrilling as as scary...a cool memory, to say the least. But I don't even want to THINK about how long it took us to get all the sand out of our gear. Now there's a bad memory for you....