Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Breck to Dunes

Friday morning, we went to get our ski passes. The Colorado Pass gives you unlimited skiing at Breckenridge, Keystone, and A-Basin, with 10 days at Vail and Beaver Creek for less than the cost of a week of single day tickets. What a deal! Now we are ready for a winter of skiing. After picking up the passes at Keystone, we continued along to A-Basin, which had opened earlier in the week. A-Basin was the first ski slope in North America to open this year. For only having one run open, there were an amazing number of people there and the atmosphere was like a big party. People were tailgating in the parking lot, basking in the sun, and drinking bloody mary’s and pints of beer – at 11 in the morning. Here are some photos:

Not much of the mountain was open, but it didn’t matter:

And there’s Brian with his ski pass, grinning ear to ear because in a few months there will be even more snow, and he’ll be out on those slopes:

The afternoon was spent getting our car ready for the next leg of our trip. Getting the oil changed was easy, and so was changing the battery, or so it seemed. It turns out that our stereo thinks it’s been stolen if disconnected from the battery. Figuring out the voodoo and magic code to get it working again was a bit of a challenge. At least we know for next time…

In the evening, we went to a local club, Cecilia’s, with Rachel (our host and now our landlady for the winter) and one of her friends. On the way there, we saw a deer standing in the road. We also saw two foxes crossing the road during our two days in Breckenridge. The club was populated with snowboarder types. Rachel’s friend was looking for a “preppy type”, which seemed like a shot in the dark given the crowd, but she managed to find the only one there.

Saturday morning, we headed out of Breck thinking we’d go to New Mexico. We’d bought a travel guide about the area and it sounded like there is a lot to do around Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque. Now, it’s Wednesday and we still aren’t there… There are lots of interesting things along the way and we keep getting diverted. The driving is amazing with all the mountains, mesas, and fall colors. We are a little late for peak aspen season, but the ones that still have leaves are brilliant yellow.

Our first side trip was to St. Elmo. It is about 25 miles off the main road, half of which is a dirt road. St. Elmo is supposed to be one of the most authentic ghost towns in the west. The pictures speak for themselves.

On the way back to the main road, we stopped briefly at Chalk Lake, where a girl was fishing. She hadn’t caught anything but was enjoying the fall colors:

Back on the main road, we decided to check out Great Sand Dunes National Monument, which turns out to be Great Sand Dunes National Park these days (our map is really old). First we stopped briefly at a state park just outside the national park. It had really interesting picnic enclosures to block the wind that was whipping through.

As we approached the park, the dunes loomed larger and larger as sort of foothills to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains:

A few deer ambled down the road in front of us:

Once we got into the park, we set up camp in a sheltered spot and went for an evening stroll on the dunes. I say “evening”, but it was really about 5 o’clock. It’s getting dark early these days and by 6:30 pm, the sun is down for the night. The upside to the sun setting so early is that we’ve seen lots of stars. The downside is that we ended up crawling in the tent early because it’s pretty cold once the sun is down. Anyway, here are some photos from our evening stroll:

In the morning, we hiked up the 650 foot tall High Dune. The dunes were really pretty in the morning light:

Once we reached the top of High Dune, we took a few pictures to mark our accomplishment:

From High Dune, the views of the rest of the dune field are amazing. That’s Star Dune off in the distance, which at 750’ tall is the highest sand dune in North America. Our next plan was to hike out to that one:

As we started in that direction, though, we heard rumbling. The first three times, we thought it was just the sand shifting – is there such a thing as a sand avalanche? The fourth time, though, it was unmistakably thunder, and we could see storm clouds rolling in. We didn’t want to be the highest thing around when lightning struck, so we turned back.

Hiking up the dunes is lots of work, but hiking down is like floating:

As we left the dune field, the skies had darkened considerably, but people were still making their way up:

In the afternoon, we drove to Zapata Falls. On the way, we saw a huge bird up in a tree – after consulting our Great Sand Dunes park brochure, we realized it was a peregrine falcon:

Zapata Falls is a short hike then a rock hop up a canyon to a pretty waterfall:

We also drove through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge. We’d hoped to see the sandhill cranes, which are supposed to be abundant this time of the year. There were none to be found, but we were practically the only people there and it was a peaceful drive.

After this, we decided to take the scenic drive up to Black of the Gunnison National Park. We only made it part of the way there because we made so many stops along the Rio Grande River to take photos. We found out that the Rio Grande is the third-longest river in the U.S. (behind the Mississippi and Missouri) – something like 1800 miles long – and we were driving along right near its source.

When it became clear that we weren’t going to make it to Black Canyon that night, we started looking for a campsite. Fortunately, in this part of the national forest there was a campground every 10-15 miles, so we had our pick. We chose Silver Thread campground, where an empty pop-up trailer was our only company. Sunset was gorgeous:

We built a fire and made s’mores as it snowed lightly on us.

And that takes us through Sunday, October 14. Maybe we’ll catch up on our blogging in a few days…

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