Day 7: Great Sand Dunes to Mancos

Our original plan was our first backpacking night of the trip at Great Sand Dunes National Park. I’ve been really looking forward to backpacking and started reading some backpacking accounts on Reddit to get hyped up even more. That was a mistake. All the posts clearly outlined the difficulty, the extreme level of misery, and the amount of sand that covered all the gear, sleeping bags included. No one made it sound even slightly enjoyable. Certainly there were highlights that sounded appealing: the silence, the views, the memories of the trip by finding sand for months to come. I shared my findings with Zak a couple of days ago and we were in agreement that a day trip might be more appealing. As a bonus, we’d get to COhome a day sooner and would get our first night of camping on the property. We made the right decision.

We’ve never been to Great Sand Dunes NP and I’m glad we went, although it isn’t high on my list of places I need to return to stat. As we approach the park, the mountains lined the horizon and these giant sand dunes were at the foot of them. It was a stark difference in landscape.

After getting our passports stamped and buying some postcards, we drove to “trailhead.” The crowds overwhelmed me in the parking lot, but we quickly realized that most were stationed at the creek right off the parking lot. The rest of us dispersed into the dunes.

The hiking started out tough from the get go. We were in our hiking boots, while others were in hiking sandals, these weird webbed shoes, or barefoot. I’m not confident that any one option was better than the rest. It’s hard to hike in sand. Especially deep sand. Throw in the steepness, and things get real. We climbed just over 700 feet in the mile to the top of the almost highest dune. In deep sand. Then! There’s more! The wind. Whoa, the wind. It was fierce. Sand pelted our whole bodies, sharply stinging us from ankles to forehead. It howled in our ears, making me question this whole “one of the most silent places in the world” thing. The path ahead of us was always fuzzy, as the sand swirled on the surface.

The hike was hard. But we persevered. We winded around tall dune, only to come upon a taller one. Eventually, with a lot of work, and one meat stick for Ellie, we made it to the almost summit of High Dune. We were close to the top of the highest one, but we were tired and completely satisfied with the accomplishment. I don’t think any of us regret taking the views in as we got more welts from the sand.

One of my favorite things about the desert is the life. The plants and animals have made every desert I’ve visited so vibrant and fascinating. This one consisted of no life. Just sand. I did see one large ant at one point, but it looked so lost and confused.

The hike down was swift, with only a few breaks to stand our backs to the wind, in hopes of avoiding sand in our eyes. We arrived back at the car and took off our boots and socks. New dunes were formed in the parking lot by the piles of sand we left behind.

The drive to Mancos was fairly quick, finding sand deeper in our ears to pass the time. Finally, after a week of being on the road, we made it home. Zoe had asked me if I’d cry when we pulled up, and I was confident I wouldn’t. Wrong. I did. We have cabinets, flooring, a most beautiful fireplace, completely finished exterior, and the greatest sense of this being so right for us. We tried to soak in every inch of the work in progress, confirming that the 10,000 choices we’ve had to make have all been perfect for us.

We set up tents down by the ridge overlooking Mesa Verde and the city of Cortez, grabbed a delightful dinner at Montezuma Mexican, and are heading back home to stargaze and sleep well.

One thought on “Day 7: Great Sand Dunes to Mancos

  1. I’m vibing with you on the plants and animals. The poor confused ant! Saw this quote today that you will like: Limber pines have a way of growing in dramatic places, taking picturesque attitudes, and getting themselves photographed, written about, and cared for…

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