After languishing in Rapid City for another day, we finally made it out and headed south. The roads were mostly dry and not icy – lucky after so much snow and extremely low temperatures. We had a cold weather problem with the RV – the gray water tank was solidly frozen at the external end of the pipe. Dave tried the hair dryer and then chipping away at it, to no avail. Since the campground we stayed at had shut off the water in their showers, and our gray tank was full, there were no showers for us on Tuesday. On the way through Wyoming, we saw enough prairie to last us for a long time, even though it was beautiful covered with a thin layer of snow.
Periodically, plowing through fog and winter haze, we got to Fort Collins, CO in time to get a look at the Center for Fine Art Photography, at which Dave has had a print accepted in one of their shows. The next day, we arranged to meet Paula Sarlls for lunch in Denver. Paula and I met many times over the years while creating and teaching various Customs classes around the country. Retired from Customs and a former woman Marine, she now spends a great deal of time organizing events and fundraising for the Marines. It was nice to see her, if only for a couple of hours.
We continued our run south, spending a wonderful, warm afternoon (80 degrees – hurray!!) in Pueblo, CO and then went over the 9,000 foot La Veta Pass to reach Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is a spectacular place, nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with wind patterns creating dunes up to 750 feet high. We walked out into the sand and found that Medano Creek, that usually runs right in front of the dunes, was totally dried out. Too bad, it adds a blue note to the beige and green hues of the dunes. Some of the aspen and cottenwood trees still have golden leaves, but many have already fallen. The color is well past its peak. Oh well.
We got up pre-dawn Friday morning and hiked about a mile from the campground up to some of the dunes. At 8,000 feet, it was cold, but there was almost no breeze at all, which makes slogging up dunes easier. Because the sun is already high in the sky before it rises above the eastern mountains, it seems to just pop up, creating harsh shadows immediately. But it’s still beautiful. We spent the rest of the day lazing about and went out again in the late afternoon. Dave hiked along the top of the dunes but the light wasn’t great. I drove over to nearby San Luis Lakes State Park to see if there were any sandhill cranes there. They are on their southern migration right now and we’d love to see them in numbers. We have been excited to see several flocks of them flying overhead in the past week. But bupkis at the State Park.
Friday night was very windy, so we decided to sleep in Saturday morning. Of course, the morning was not windy at all but we enjoyed the hanging out at the campground and did a part of the hike up Mosca Pass later that day. It was sunny and warm, so different from the last time we hiked up to the pass. What a difference sunlight makes; it elevates my mood so much. We celebrated the return of the sun by drinking the Limoncello, created by Jeff and Betty, given to us by Mary and Rick. Ah, warmth!!
This morning we got up at 6:15 again and headed for the dunes. It wasn’t as cold as Friday morning and we got up to a higher place by sunrise. As Dave puts it, we were “sucking wind”; it’s really hard sloshing up 300 or 400 feet of steep sand dunes. But it’s worth it to see the sun crest the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and progress over miles of dunes. When we got up high enough, we were surprised to see Medano Creek sparkling a little to the north. Usually this shallow but broad creek runs all along the base of the dunes, but a drought year may have dried up a portion of it. After getting back to the RV, we made coffee, and drove closer to where the stream was flowing. It wasn’t terribly photogenic, but it was fun wading around with our coffee cups in hand.