Great Sand Dunes National Park
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Did you know there’s such a thing as giant sand dunes?

Shell - @7:35 pm

Trinidad, Colorado. A stopping point betwixt Denver and Albuquerque, in a completely stunning setting, but all we’ve seen of the place is the dusty and boarded up Main Street, our disappointing hotel/motel hybrid that didn’t have cold water and had carpet all over the car park, and a little Chinese restaurant that put meat in the fried rice. Possibly a low point, stopover-wise, on the trip so far. The day up until arriving at Trinidad was brilliant though so let me tell you all about that in excruciating detail.

We waved a teary goodbye to Denver with only the knowledge that today would be quite scenic to comfort us. We were heading off the Interstate to drive down through the mountains instead, and it was totally worth it. There were plenty of alarming sights to see, such as the “Correctional Facility Nearby – Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers” sign, or the one telling us that the danger of fire here today was “moderate”.

Shell likey here.
Shell likey here.

I was much taken with this part of Colorado, actually with Colorado in general, and can totally see myself living alone in a shack out here if the apocalypse happens before we go home and I’m somehow the only survivor. Dave disagrees, his heart is back in Boulder.

Anyway, the drive was super scenic but we kept missing the turn off for the scenic overlooks so photos are a bit scarce. We’ll make up for it with photos of sand dunes in a minute.

We only added Great Sand Dunes National Park to the itinerary a week or so before we left, previously having no idea it even existed. It’s basically what it sounds like, giant sand dunes, but it’s made even more bizarre by the setting; almost-desert on one side and mountains on the other, and of course it’s about 8000ft above sea level to start with. We planned to buy an annual pass that would see us through all the National Parks on our trip, but all of the staff were apparently out doing a litter pick or similar so it was essentially free. We parked up at the visitor’s centre first and realised that all around us was silence. No people talking, no birds chirping, no scary unidentifiable insects. Just absolute eerie silence.

Not Photoshopped, just weird.
Not Photoshopped, just weird.

This all changed when we arrived at the sand dunes proper, parked the car and got out to discover that the sand dunes themselves are cut off from the car park by a very shallow river, forming basically a seaside environment. It was full of families, children in swimsuits frolicking in the water and even carrying buckets and spades. It was almost like being at Scarborough, except at Scarborough you’re not forced to wade over a river to get where you need to go. We arrived at the other side, soaked and (well me at least) overexcited, and set off into the dunes.

Our sandiest selfie to date
Our sandiest selfie to date

Fact #1 about Great Sand Dunes National Park – everything is a lot bigger and a lot further off and a LOT harder to climb up than it looks. Climb up it we did, though, thin mountain air be damned. The highest sand dune here is about 700ft and we didn’t get to that one as it was too far into the park, but it turned out to be very lucky that we didn’t have that much time.

We noticed that the wind was getting up a bit and the sky was darkening, plus we had another couple of hours to drive to Trinidad, so we scarpered off our peak. Dave descended gracefully, I slid halfway down on my bum and then got overconfident and tried to roll the rest of the way. Roll I did, albeit briefly and like a half-eaten Easter egg, but it counts. I shall never forget Dave’s expression of horror and shame as I flailed.

We made it to the bottom and joined a small number of other visitors on a stately amble to the river, but then a gust of wind prompted Dave to turn around and he gasped in awe. Actually gasped. The storm was coming up behind us, over the peaks from which we’d just descended, and you could see the sand blowing around at the top. A moment later, we realised we could actually see the cloud of sand coming towards us down the dunes. We quickened our pace.

One of the most epic things  I've seen IRL. May not show up so well on camera :(
One of the most epic things I’ve seen IRL. May not show up so well on camera :(

The wind continued to pick up, and suddenly the sandstorm was upon us. The poor delicate backs of our legs! Let me tell you, that stuff HURTS. We hurried back across the river, which by the way is prone to flash flooding in instances just like these, as quickly as we could and made it back to the car intact. The rain hit just as we were driving off, reducing visibility to basically zero. It was all quite the adventure!

One thing that makes perfect sense but that we weren’t really expecting is that due to the massive empty flat spaces over here, you can see things like storms in their entirety. We drove out from under it into lovely sunshine and could see exactly where it started and ended, where the sheets of rain were falling, where the clouds were butting up against the surrounding mountains. It’s not often you get to see that sort of thing back home.

The rest of the journey was less adventurous, but still nice. All this driving (him) and passengering (me) doesn’t seem to be fazing us one bit, which is handy since we’re only halfway around. We’ll see if we can still say the same thing in a couple weeks time.

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