It’s a rainy day in southwest Colorado, so we’ve settled inside a mellow coffee shop (Spruce Tree Espresso) to warm up and recover from three days of hiking. As I’m still finding sand every time I step into the car, it’s a perfect time to recount our adventures within and between two great parks: White Sands National Monument (New Mexico), and Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado).
…But first, after Carlsbad Caverns we made a little side trip to the Guadalupe Mountains, which contain the highest peak in Texas (not difficult to achieve, actually). We didn’t hike to the peak because we were sore from the day before, but we went along an interesting trail called “Devil’s Hall”, which seemed like an absurd designation until we reached the end.
Anyway…We did escape with our lives, and started heading up to the Alamogordo KOA so that we would be able to visit White Sands in the morning. The drive through Lincoln National Forest (birthplace of Smokey Bear!) and the cozy town of Cloudcroft was so beautiful that we later returned for a short hike on the Osha Trail. White Sands was a surreal, peaceful experience, although we only stayed for a couple hours because of the heat and the somewhat static views.
A large area surrounding the park comprises the White Sands Missile Range, where the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945. The facility only offers tours twice a year, though, so we missed our chance to see it up close.
Our next stop in New Mexico was its largest city, Albuquerque. We were a bit burnt out at this point and didn’t really do any sight-seeing…besides the inside of a Barnes & Noble…but the Sandia Mountains are a beautiful backdrop to the city, and we were very tempted to hike to one of the peaks!
We also passed through Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, and spent some time walking around the Plaza, known as “the Heart of Santa Fe”. The square has a rich history, including being found at both the end of the Santa Fe Trail and the El Camino Real (the Spanish Royal Road). Here we stopped to admire the Palace of the Governors (the oldest public building in the U.S.) and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Almost all of the buildings in Santa Fe are made in a traditional adobe style, which is pretty cool!
At my request, we also stopped by the Jean Cocteau Cinema, which is owned by George R.R. Martin (author of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ and one of the coolest people ever). Unfortunately, the place was closed for Labor Day, so we couldn’t actually watch a movie or a…Game of Thrones Burlesque Show, which is really a thing.
I still feel a bit bad about this, but there is a TON of cool stuff (natural and historical-wise) in the surrounding area of Santa Fe that we missed, but we were starting to worry about time and priorities…so we left the city and drove straight up to Alamosa, Colorado, only stopping for one short hike on the Dale Ball Trail in the Santa Fe foothills.
We ended up hanging around the Alamosa KOA (which is 1/2 hour from the Great Sand Dunes) for two days just acclimating to the high altitude. We also had to get used to the cycle of hot days and freezing nights, which is very different from New Mexico!
When we finally got over to Great Sand Dunes National Park, we were stunned. The dunes seemed almost as tall as the Sangre de Cristo mountains surrounding them, and it took us over an hour to climb to the highest one. We also made one of the best financial decisions of our collective life: we rented sandboards!
I ended up freaking out and just using mine as a sled, but that was definitely just as cool and did not at all make me lame, Matt.
We climbed to High Dune, which is about 700 feet tall and provides a great view of the entire park. The hike was one of the most difficult I’ve attempted, as it feels very like trying to climb a vertical beach. Still, the view was worth it, and we sandboarded/sledded all the way down. In summary, both dunefields were beautiful and worth visiting, but the Great Sand Dunes were by far more giant, majestic, and fun!
That’s all for now (although now we’re all the way in Moab, Utah…)! I miss you all, especially this one…