As I slowly transition my travels from the lofty mountains of Colorado to the warmer climate in New Mexico, I noticed Great Sand Dunes National Park was on the way. It didn’t look like there was any National Forest nearby where I could camp so I decided to stay in the park for a couple days. I also needed to dump and fill with water, and knew I could do both there.
The campground had two loops, one that was first come basis, and another that was reservation only. A few of the sites in the reservation loop could be used if they were not reserved for the night. It was a very confusing system and puzzling to figure out. Two other campers and I looking for a site were not sure if we had to call Reserve.Gov or just pay at the entrance. The camp host finally assured us we could pay here.
I never expected to find the campground so full. It was after Labor Day and I was arriving on a Wednesday. I thought that after the kids went back to school and the weather turned to Fall that the parks would be less crowded. I mentioned this to a park employee and she told me that that is what a lot of people think. The reality is that retired people are out in force thinking the same way I do.
There is not much to see at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Once you walk through the visitor center – two thirds of which is dedicated to a gift shop – and climb up the sand dunes, you’ve pretty much seen it all.
The geology and history of the park were interesting. The sign markers spend a lot of detail telling how the blowing sand from the San Luis Valley got trapped in a basin of the Cristo Mountains and was piled as high as 750 feet.
I climbed part way up the dunes on my second day at the park. One of the attractions for adventurous people who visit the park is sledding the dunes. They use special sleds and snowboards, made slippery with a special wax applied to the bottom surface. I saw quite a few falls but the sand cushions a lot of the impact. I’m sure there are some that take on more hill than skill level and get hurt, too.
I left the park on Friday and traveled west to South Fork, Colorado. South Fork is surrounded by national forest and I explored a few roads looking for a dispersed campsite to ride out the weekend. I looked at a couple pay campgrounds on the Beaver Creek Road but I didn’t think they were as special as the price indicated. I finally met a forest employee and asked him about free camping and he directed me to the Park Creek Road.
I’m not sure what the elevation is here because I have no cell signal. I have a feeling it is probably close to 9000. I’m not very far from the Continental Divide and it was only 25 degrees this morning. It is a pretty campsite, nestled in a valley of lush meadows, surrounded by tall pines and Aspen just starting to change to fall color, and a gentle, clear stream beside my rig. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact it is hunting season, and pickups with quads loaded on trailers have been driving by all morning.