Day 1 & 2: Trip Commence & Great Sand Dunes NP

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The long road out of Texas.

I feel like I’m doing poorly at keeping up on the road trip this time, but I’m just going to blame the internet connection and exhaustion.

Our first day (Dallas, TX to Trinidad, CO) was a long one. We left Dallas around 2:30pm and got to Amarillo, TX for a late dinner. The dinner re energized us, so we decided to drive onwards to Trinidad, CO instead of our planned stop in Clayton, NM (an extra 104 miles). We got there around 11:15pm local time (12:15am CST).

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Glorious Amarillo sunset.

Day 2, we headed onwards for Great Sand Dunes National Park. The drive wasn’t bad since we’d driven extra the first night. We took the scenic route through the “Highway of Legends”

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Our picnic stop.
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Devil’s Staircase

We got to the dunes in the early afternoon to find our campsite and set everything up. Unfortunately, we aren’t really so great at checking ahead. While we’d planned on making steaks and s’mores, we found out that Great Sand Dunes currently has a campfire ban in effect so our plans of an anniversary steak dinner after hiking the sand dunes was squashed. We were a little miffed at the situation, but we ultimately decided to just eat our sandwich meats and save our steaks for later.

We hung around the campsite for a couple hours — I know I prefer afternoon light for photography purposes, so we didn’t want to start our hike up the dunes too soon in the afternoon. We finally left around 5pm, figuring it would give us plenty of time to explore before sunset at around 8:30pm.

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So tall!

First thing we discovered: The Great Sand Dunes are indeed great. We’ve been to a few sand dunes before — White Sands National Monument in NM, and the sand dunes in Death Valley CA. They were all nothing compared to this. The climb up these was insane. It’s kind-of a “create your own hike” situation. It’s a giant field of dunes with 2 named dunes, High Dune (the highest) and Star Dune (the tallest). Quick explanation: High Dune has the highest elevation peak, but Star Dune is taller from top to bottom, thus 2 tall dunes.

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Incoming rain. It didn’t hit us though.

We created our hike, meandering up the slopes from our campsite. We mostly tried to follow the ridge peaks and hard sand, but sometimes we’d just try to climb straight up a dune. You’d think it’s a shortcut, but when you take 2 steps up and slide down one step, it’s not exactly an easy process. I’m not sure we were that efficient at our dunes climb, but we certainly got a good workout in.

So finally we were at the top — lovely time of day, the sun was coming in and out of shadow, varying the cloud coverage and lighting on the dunes. We thought about trekking over to the official High Dune, but decided our view of the highest dunes was just about as good as walking over to them.

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Love sand dunes when I don’t have to climb them.
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Amazing light over the dunes.

There were some beautiful sunbeams shining through the clouds and we took a bunch of photos. We were content with sitting up on our hill until sunset, until suddenly we got blasted with sand from behind.

We thought it might stop soon, as thought it were just a brief wind blowing through. It ended up getting worse and worse (decision to wear contacts on the sand dunes: poor).

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Poor Travis. That was our sitting dune until the winds came in.

After getting pelted by sand for 15-20 minutes, we decided the best plan of action was to head back to the campsite and drive to a vista to seek out sunset. We had some squabbles on the way down (I preferred the less-sandstormy, maybe have to walk more to our campsite but we’ll do it on flat ground way down, and he just wanted to walk into the wind, sigh).

We made it to the campsite (insert irreverent story about the man wandering around with no pants), got the car, drove to sunset…. It wasn’t really anything, but we tried. Haha.

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Sunset over the dunes.

Then we reconfirmed we couldn’t make our steaks (sad) and went back to the campsite for vino and sandwich meat. At least I bought us special cups for this trip. Plus, they have 7 color settings, so I set them both to red to help night vision when I started seeking stars.

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Camp friendly wineglasses — we could turn out the lantern and just enjoy the stars while still keeping track of the wine.

The next morning my internal sunrise alarm (or the “can’t sleep cuz we’re camping” alarm) woke me up 15 minutes before sunrise, so I popped outside and took some pictures of the pink sky from our campsite.

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Lazy sunrise from the campsite

After that I woke Travis and requested that he accompany me on the hike to the Dunes Overlook (we had planned to wake up for this). It wasn’t too long, maybe about a mile uphill from the trailhead, but we eventually found our views of the sand dunes… however, they were still unlit. We weren’t really sure when the sun would peek above the mountains, but we sat around up there for quite awhile waiting.

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After an hour of waiting…

Eventually it came out, but it was pretty meh because of all the clouds and because of the angle. Maybe it would have been a better sunset option, or just better if we’d timed it right.

On the way back to the campsite we found deer, so I chased them for a little bit, then we packed up and headed onwards to Durango.

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The baby deer! It’s so tiny!

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