“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.
It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
- Cheryl Strayed
Over the past few months I've found myself craving spontaneity and adventure. My life has (increasingly) becoming too predictable: school drop-off, work, gym, play dates, naps, meal-prep and so on. We have a calendar and we have routine. Not that there's anything wrong with a little order in life (especially when one has young children), but what was happening to my adventurer-self? The girl who would board a plane to Asia or Central America because a good fare popped up? Or the girl who would hop a boat - one filled with with cattle and ranchers- just to catch a glimpse of southern Chile? Or the 20-something-me who would take the trolley to the French Quarter and do cartwheels down the street just because it was a Tuesday night? I think she was starting to vanish…
Now I know that at this stage of my life I have different responsibilities and obligations than I had a decade ago. There's a mortgage, my career, two kids, and college tuition to think of. But still, there's got to be a little room for adventure, some spontaneity, maybe even some silliness in one's life too, no?
If you’re wondering how this ties in to Great Sand Dunes National Park, I’ll tell you.
We had no plans to drive down. But when one of our intended guests cancelled their trip to Denver due to the flu, we seized the moment and decided to go for it. We had been talking about visiting the dunes for more than 2 years, but we always put it off. We were always making excuses (It's too far/I have too much work/I'm too tired/Maybe next year...) But not this time! We hastily secured a hotel room (there’s only one place to stay), packed a cooler (there aren’t many eating options at this point in the pre-season) and we drove south for about 3 ¾ hours. It felt good to do something that wasn't planned months in advance. In fact, it felt great!
So I encourage you to do something spontaneous! You won't regret it. In the words (I'm paraphrasing here) of Dr. Scott, the paleontologist on PBS's Dinosaur Train, "Get out there! Get into nature. Have an adventure and make your own discoveries."
Getting there: We took I-25 South going down to Great Sand Dunes. Going back to Denver we drove US Route 285.
Total time from Denver: 3 hours, 45 minutes.
Fee: $3 per vehicle, but it was National Park Day when we went so there was no entry fee.
Season: May-September. We went in the off-season (April 19th and 20th). Though the weather is usually chilly and windy at this time of year, we had perfect weather. The Medano Creek was flowing. I heard that peak flows are in May and June, but it depends on rainfall throughout the summer. If you're planning a visit keep in mind the sand can reach temperatures that exceed 140 degrees in the summer months- so that may not be the best time to take small children.
Accommodations: There are limited accommodations and camp sites are by reservation. We stayed at The Great Sand Dunes Lodge and the owners, Ratna and Rames, were extremely kind. The rooms were basic and clean. Breakfast was served. Rooms were $85 per night, but they are more expensive in the high season. Oh, and there's a pool. And a grill. This is the only lodging option immediately outside the dunes. The views were spectacular. There are more options in Alamosa, about 30 minutes away.
For more information visit www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm