The end of March is approaching, making its transition from winter to spring. Colorado greeted us with summer weather this past weekend, making our weekend road trip that much better basked in the sun – sun roof open, windows down, tangled hair, sunnies on, and nothing but vast land and an open road.
I would say that we truly encountered landscapes in the time we were given. By encountered, I mean we struggled and wrestled with nature. We felt its beauty, its textures, its force, its peace, its power, its vulnerability, and its voice. Whether we were covered in sand climbing the dunes, constantly falling knee-high deep in melting snow, while hiking through pine trees, or almost being blown away by high winds near the summit of Mt. Humboldt, we adapted to changing conditions. Sometimes the adventure requires a physical challenge so that the experience is not just a visual picture, but also a muscle memory – not just seen, but also felt.
It took about four hours to drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park from Denver. By the time we arrived Friday night, it was quite dark, but you could see numerous, bright stars and the milky way fill the sky, due to little light pollution in the southern region. Luckily, we were able to find available campground for the night not too far from the park (also spotted a black-tailed jack rabbit!).
Admission to the Great Sand Dunes is $15, and the drive in the park to the main dune site is very close. At the very base, you see an incredible field of sand dunes before the tall, Sangre de Cristo mountain range draped in the background and the Medano Creek that runs through the bottom. This park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, reaching 750 feet tall over almost 19,000 acres. So, of course, we decided to climb the tallest sand dune by foot. Hiking in sand is definitely difficult, but going without boots makes it much easier.
The views are outstanding from the top. And coming down is one of the most fun and rewarding parts! You can sand board, sled, run, belly-slide, or even roll down (caution: sand will get everywhere…literally).
Just outside the parking lot from the base, there are several picnic tables where you can have lunch. We enjoyed a spread of French baguette, brie cheese, salami, dried mango, and Chardonnay, which made for a delightful afternoon picnic.
After spending a little more than half a day at the dunes, we started heading towards the little town of Westcliffe for an early morning fourteener the next day – Mt. Humboldt (14,064 feet).
Woke up at 5 am on our last day to get an early start on our hike to Mt. Humboldt. Started the trail at 6 am when it was still dark – the moon and stars cast minimal dim light. On our way up, the sun began to rise over the trees and soon enough took over the sky in colorful oranges, pinks, purples, and reds. The trail itself was a bit hard to read due to the snow, but we managed to find our way above tree line.
As we climbed further, the winds picked up, making it incredibly cold and challenging to continue towards the summit. At this point, I felt like I was going to be blown off the mountain. So I decided to call it at that point and started turning around – I am still proud to have made it that far up in those cold mountain conditions though! Cam, however, managed to make the summit despite the winds and even ran down to meet back up with me (what a beast)!
With just micro-spikes on, the hike down proved interesting. The sun grew warmer and warmer as we got further down, which also meant snow was melting. So, naturally, we kept falling deep into the snow unexpectedly. It is probably best to bring snowshoes! By the time we got down early afternoon, we had hiked approximately 13 miles.
I will be sore for the next couple days, but that’s okay because the adventures were all worth it. First time to the Great Sand Dunes for me, and first time to Mt. Humboldt for both Cam and I. I love that Cam challenges me to go on 13 mile, 5 am, winter mountain excursions like it’s nothing out of the ordinary because each time I push my limits, I grow stronger mentally and physically for the next adventure that awaits.
Sand, picnics, sun, mountains, nature, road trips, and lovely company makes for a pretty awesome weekend.