up, as much as can be expected at this bloody hour, and stumble
out of the bedroom to get ready... things go downhill from there.
Amy and I leave late, I forget my hat(s), we forget to bring breakfast
for Sun, and I can't see squat out of my dirty window and have
no washer fluid. And I didn't get the body mount fixed. We wait
for 10 minutes for a left turn light to give us the go so we can
stop in a gas station, and we are too late to meet Charlie in
Castle Rock. The 'fast food' breakfast turns into a glacially
slow, unexplained 10 minute wait. We're on the road way too late
to meet Roy but they threw in a couple of apology sandwiches free.
miss 115, then completely miss 83 which would've taken me to 115,
then realize all this 10 miles south of the Springs. The U-turn
burns up more time. Yet in spite of all this and partly due to
my lead foot, we arrive in Westcliffe way ahead of time.
We arrive extremely early and stop at an antique
store sidewalk sale for a few minutes. I find a small, Tonka Cherokee
Chief, red and black (like a narrow track version of John Clark's
rig) for $6! Our first good Omen! We arrive in Westcliffe moments
later and meet with Roy, Charlie, and his son Sean, who are finishing
breakfast. We wait until a few minutes after 10 and leave as the
Memorial Day parade is gearing up. I quickly obtain a goofy, floppy,
camouflage army hat that serves me well in the desert sands.
We reach the
trailhead and begin driving through private property (the 10'
signs every 100 yards told me so) consisting of some absolutely
beautiful land. Things start to get bumpy with some climbs. We
hit some good twisty spots that gives Charlie's suspension a good
workout and some tire spin and I discover the same obstacle is
passable in 2wd with a locker. Wow! We stop for a long lunch,
Jason still hasn't shown up, we head along towards the Great Sand
Dunes over some moderate but very fun trail, mostly humps of dirt
with the occasional rocky section. We begin to look for campsites.
We find a couple possibilities and then we run into the downhill
rocky sections and creek crossings.
pops out of nowhere, like usual, and we continue on to the Sand
Dunes. The sight is as amazing as it is weird. A big pile of sand
in the middle of nowhere. It looks... wrong. We tour down nearly
to the pavement, fighting through a hoard of rude, idiotic people
in SUVs some of them cussing and bitching on the radio. Uh, this
is supposed to be a relaxing vacation, folks. Some people. We
decide to turn around and search for camp. Roy gets stuck at "The
Point of No Return" and I like an idiot sit there waiting to see
if he is going to make it. By the time I get my sorry butt back
to help (after snapping a picture of course) Charlie's already
pushed him out of trouble. I feel like a putz.
head back and find an ideal campground, even if the ground is
a little slanted and we all slide around that night in our respective
tents. The scenery is gorgeous, a beautiful clearing in the woods.
After setting up camp and starting a fire I head back to the Dunes
to meet a friend. The real adventure begins...
Dunes Nat'l Monument
I bounce and splash my way back to the pavement,
and meet my friend. But not before waiting for a hi-centered Suzuki
Sidekick get out of the deep sand. It's later than I expect and
my tummy is growling. I'm pooped and am looking forward heading
back. He has to move the car to another parking spot. By the time
we get there, he isn't feeling well, and heads off to a motel.
As I return to camp, a couple asks me for a ride to their campsite
nearby. Well... OK They're friendly, nice. After the taxi run,
I get back to the trail and find another hitchhiking couple and
taxi (bounce) them to their destination a mile or more along the
trail. Also nice. One from Missouri, her male friend from Dublin,
Boy am I tired
now. Somehow, it's been over 2 hours since I left. I'm sure every
creek crossing is the last one before camp. I'm wrong 8 times.
Finally I arrive & find bratwurst waiting on the grille (wow,
very cool!), courtesy Charlie and Amy. I chow down, cook up some
coffee, I fill 'em in on my adventures, and we sit around jawing
in front of an excellent fire that Jason's girls keep feeding.
They're both great kids and Aspen is adorable. Sean is fun and
we have a great time goofing around.
The blasted alarm goes off, and I fumble around
trying to shut it off. I go back to sleep. I awake again, and
very slowly drag myself out of the tent to get breakfast and coffee
started. We all are up by 8 or so, and enjoy some more conversation,
a cool morning, and some food. I'm not trying to brag, I'm really
more surprised than anything, but I manage to cook up the best
camp coffee ever. Wow. I slurp it down along with bacon and eggs,
and pretty soon we're back on the trail. Only I've had enough
of this part of the trail. So I give Amy the keys.
She has a
blast on her first four-wheeling behind the wheel, crawling down
the bumpy hills and through the creek crossings, none more than
about 12" high, and we make it to the Sand Dunes, meet my friend
who is doing better, and we go out to explore the vast expanse
of sand. There's a creek running through near the entrance and
we get our feet wet and then hike towards the dunes. And hike.
And hike. And hike. Man is it hot. And hike. Finally we're all
up on a modest hill a fraction of the height of the entire sand
mountain. Amy and I decide we'll hike to the top. Ha. The rest
take the more intelligent approach of staying put and eventually
We hike and
hike and hike and it gets hotter and hotter and we realize the
bottle of water wasn't anywhere near enough and that the Sand
Dunes are a LOT bigger up close than looking at them from the
other side of the water a half-mile away. Hiking up hills in sand
is... hard. We get our picture taken by my friend, Ulysses, from
the hill below and he heads down. So do we. Lots of effort only
to get about 1/3 of the way up! We arrive at the water after trudging
through the sand, and I am thankful for my comfortable hot-weather
hat. Charlie asks "uh, where's Ulysses?" Oh crap. Did we leave
him on the hill?
We hike all
the way back. No Ulysses. We hike back to the water. No Ulysses.
Amy hikes to his car, no one. She hikes back to the hill again.
It's hours later, everyone left while we hiked back to the hill
the first time. Nothing. I'm starving to death and real thirsty.
Amy's in similar condition. Our eyes hurt from scanning specks
(people) on the sand. We talk to rangers. We search. I leave a
card on his car to let him know I'm around. Finally we find him
in the parking lot, discover that we kept missing each other,
and head to the truck back at the visitor center and eat some
MREs that tasted like the best meal we've ever had. We head home,
tired, sunburned, dehydrated, but full... and happy from a much-needed,
relaxing weekend outdoors.
In all, a
real fun time, some good wheeling and camping, great people to
be around, some real life adventure, and some amazing sights and
experiences at the Great Sand Dunes!