We are finally in our blessed Shangri-La, the West. We drove 9 1/2 hours in one day to just bloody get to Colorado already. We had had enough of 3.5-hour days in the car, just driving as far as we could while we endured our kids’ backlash against the torment we were putting them through. They were all so sick of being in the car.
We woke up in Oklahoma and drove nearly four hours to Pampa, Texas. We found a campground at a city park and set up for the night. It was sunny, and I set out to deploy the awning. I hadn’t even opened it halfway before a massive Texas Plains wind gust cropped up in an instant, and flipped the awning over top of the trailer, destroying it in an instant. The metal frame itself ripped. That’s how strong the gust was. And just as soon as it was finished destroying our property, the winds died right back down to breeze level. Because of course.
Let’s just say I was not happy. I liked that awning, and it was not cheap. It was going to be a pain to replace.
Over dinner that afternoon, we decided we needed relaxation of the mind and body. We decided to take a gamble and drive the rest of the way to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado that night, then stay there for two or three days. We would let the kids play and get exhausted, then strap them in and hope for the best. To our great delight, they all slept pretty quickly. We managed six straight hours of driving, arriving just outside the park at 2 a.m.
The drive out was quite interesting. Driving through the plains was beautiful and bland at the same time. The never-ending rolling hills and grazing lands all blended together, yet offered quintessential plains landscapes that evoked a romantic nostalgia.
Then there was the blight. Every town we passed through in Texas (the only towns we could see before the sun set) had been literally half abandoned. Countless buildings had been boarded up and left to the elements, the only recourse for a failing establishment with no one to buy the property. In the town of Borger, we passed by an entire shopping center that had been abandoned, the signage for JC Penney and Big Kmart still clearly visible long after the signs had been removed. My only real speculation is that the collapse of the oil economy in the area has led to the outflux of people. We passed countless oil rigs dotting the countryside, and not a single one was moving.
Six hours after setting out, we arrived just outside the national park, and found a flat spot by the side of the road to set up for a few hours. It all worked out surprisingly well. The kids slept in the car just like they were supposed to, and fell right back asleep in the trailer.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
In the morning we headed for the dunes. They were something impressive to look at from a distance, and even more so up close. However, the parking lot was a pretty decent trek away from the dunes itself. It didn’t look far, but walking through soft dry sand does not make for an easy stroll. Shiloh nearly gave up before we got to the first dune and I can hardly blame her. Sand is, after all, the worst thing in the world.
But not for kids, of course. Walking aside, the two of them had a fabulous time running with daddy down the steep dunes, playing with their trucks, and, for Judah, eating the sand. I suppose he just couldn’t help himself. Several other people had brought sleds to go cruising down the dunes with. Kinda wish we had had one. We could have had some fun getting wrecked out there, but we all had a blast anyway.
I had to carry Shiloh and Judah some of the way back, since they were both so exhausted from the sheer effort of trying to walk through sand (remember, sand is the worst thing). Once we got back to the car, we all had to make as much of an effort as we could to dump all the sand out of our shoes, clothes, hair, ears, noses, mouths, nether regions, fingernails, and toes (the worst thing). We did our level best, but there’s just no stopping the sand.
Sandy misery aside, it was definitely worth it. It’s a very unique place, nestled among some beautiful mountains.
We stayed for two nights at a strange but beautiful RV park nearby. I say strange because the state built it, hooked it up with power, and then couldn’t get the water working, whatever that means, and then just decided to make it free for whoever wants to stay there. Our water supply limited us to two days, which was what we wanted to do anyway. We found a nice spot with beautiful views of the dunes and mountains, and used our busted awning as an excuse to try out the stock awnings that came with the trailer. Those needed ropes and poles, but they have walls too. The duty fell on me to set it all up, and I very nearly gave up in the face of light wind making things rather hard for me, and scaring me that a gust would rip it all to shreds again before my eyes. But it worked eventually. It was a nice sheltered space once it was all finished.
The next day, after some errands, we checked out a waterfall. Zapata Falls was just outside the National Park, and totally worth the side trip. After climbing up a pretty steep trail, we had to wade through an icy mountain stream to reach the falls themselves. The water slid down a narrow ravine before trickling out into a broad, shallow creek. The falls were cool to see, but the real prize was letting Judah and Shiloh stomp around in the tiny pools, with seemingly no regard for the chilliness of it all. We just sat on a bench among the verdant alpine landscape and soaked it all in.
Our main order of business the next day was meeting with a guy in Colorado Springs who also sells Conquerors. We just wanted to meet him and see his shop. We got dinner in a nearby mall and let the kids play in a playground before camping at Wal-Mart for the night. Good ol’ Wal-mart. The overlander’s faithful standby.
Rocky Mountain National Park
This morning, we drove right up through Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park, our third national park so far. We found a campground with a spot for a night, dropped off the trailer, and headed for the trails.
We went to do the most popular hike in the park, Bear Lake. And we found out pretty quickly that there is a very good reason it is the most popular. It is an easy half-mile walk around the lake, and offers views of towering granite peaks and glacial valleys over vibrant green conifer forests. And we saw deer and a couple of moose on the road in too.
I took Shiloh and Norah for a loop while Judah napped in the car. Shiloh could not have been happier, bounding around the rocks, commenting every three or so seconds about how beautiful and amazing it all is. And I had to agree. It was all spellbinding. Just a short walk around a lake is enough to soothe the soul.
Judah and Trish were waiting at the trail head when we finished, so we all went around again. It was a great time watching the two big kids play and experience Mother Nature, in the form of both awesome views and fat chipmunks chasing us down for food. It was a great little hike. Back at the campsite, a mule deer strode right past our trailer, thoroughly unconcerned with our loud, small humans. We toasted s’mores over a fire before bed. Just an amazing day. Tomorrow, more hiking, and driving towards Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP to continue our nature-seeking.