We pushed through the high plains of eastern Colorado and into Denver around 5pm and found our lodging for the night shortly thereafter. One of our friends we met through travel nursing offered us to crash at her place, as she’d be out of town for a wedding for the weekend. I can’t say enough about the friends we have.
Settling Charley in at the house, we brought in our stuff and I went for a quick run around the neighborhood to acclimate a bit to the high elevation. We showered up and changed into something presentable, and called my friend from home, Dave Konnick, who’s been a Colorado resident for a few years now. It was so great to catch up with Dave and see what he’s been up to. Always with quick wit and an excellent story, Dave had us laughing as we enjoyed a couple beers to compliment our delicious dinners served up at Avanti, a food truck-type location in Denver. We enjoyed the company and setting, with an excellent sunset and evening falling upon the city.
Sunday: Dune Day.
We got an early start out of Denver and caught I-25 south through and past Colorado Springs, as the trip odometer ticked over 2000 miles. Our destination? Ridgway State Park in southwest Colorado. But there’s just so much to see in Colorado, so a detour was necessary.
We circled around the Sangre de Cristo (“Blood of Christ”) mountains, and shot back north once we were on the west side of the mountain chain. Great Sand Dunes National Park is situated in an in-cut of the Sangre de Cristo Range, where the opposing wind patterns provide the perfect conditions for the collection of massive piles of sand. It’s tough to get an idea of their size, as they’re clearly dwarfed by the surrounding peaks.
We climbed a bit over 700 feet up the dunes, taking two steps forward and one step back as the ground crumbled and sunk beneath us. For this trek, I opted for wool socks to protect from the hot sand, while Jamie sported her Chaco sandals. Charley tried to brave the sand with just her bare paws, but she was playing it station to station, seeking spots of cold wet sand among the hot desert dunes. Eventually, we strapped some infant socks we had picked up at Walmart, secured with hair elastics, to her paws. This provided some relief, but Charley was too weirded out by the sock situation, so she kept chugging bare-pawed.
Prior to arriving at the dunes, we rented a sand sled from a nearby shop. Strapped to my backpack, we carried the sled up the 700 feet and rode down some steep pitches, gaining 20-30 miles of speed down the slopes.
After we’d had our fill of difficult climbs and sand-filled pockets from sledding, we trekked back to the car, changed out of our gear, and hit the road, setting the GPS for Ridgway SP.
The drive was supremely enjoyable as well, as we passed distant mountains creating a horseshoe around us, and cruising down country roads in the flatlands. After a few hours, we passed Blue Mesa Reservoir, a lake that bears the title of largest lake in Colorado.
We arrived at our camp after dark, much to our dismay. But setting up camp was rather easy and painless, and before long we settled in for our first night of camping on the road trip. Of course, not before we enjoyed some excellent stargazing in one of the best dark skies the US has to offer.
“Freeze dried ok?” I asked Jamie as we woke the next morning before the sun. We wanted to get an early start on the day, and freeze dried breakfast only requires a handful of minutes to prepare. Southwest hash was on the menu, and it filled our bellies adequately. We hopped in the car and drove down south, past the town of Ridgway, and into the Uncompahgre National Forest via dirt roads and crossing several cattle guards as we went.
We prepped at the car for the hike, strapping up our water, hiking poles, and camera, along with snacks and Charley’s gear.
The Blue Lakes hike starts in the Uncompahgre National Forest, but soon after starting the trail, we entered the Mt Sneffels Wilderness. Mt Sneffels sits over 14,000 feet and dominates the landscape of the San Juan Mountains. The hike took us to a trio of tiered lakes and, as you can guess, their color was an impressive blue-green that only gets more stunning as you gain elevation above each lake. We arrived at the first lake, sitting serene in a massive basin. Stopping for a bit, we snapped some photos and dipped our feet in the frigid water.
We continued on past second lake, picking up our pace as we had plans for later in the afternoon. The third and final lake lies at the bottom of Mt Sneffels and Blue Lake Pass, some 1500 feet above our stopping point. We had a few snacks, enjoyed the quiet and solitude, and began our journey back down. Always difficult to describe in words, this hike had us shaking our heads in disbelief in its beauty.
As mentioned before, we had plans for later in the evening, so we hustled back to the car, unloaded our gear, made lunch, and set the GPS for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Our plan for the next day required wilderness permits, obtained the day prior to the hike from the visitors center. So we drove the 1.5 hours to the National Park,. got what we came for, and drove on to our camp.
Burgers and Mac salad was dinner, and stargazing for dessert.