September 16, 2001

9/16/01 Great Sand Dunes

84.3 / 7792 miles

Gets mighty cold up here around 9000'. I couldn't wait for the sun to peak over the ridge to warm things up. Packing is ten times harder when it's cold, and a hundred times more difficult if your insist on doing it with gloves on.

One good thing about my campsite was that it was only two miles from the summit of Poncha Pass. The climb up helped get me warm, at least until the sun could do it. Once over the pass, the road descended into the valley. If I didn't know better, I would have thought I was in Kansas, what with the land flat with roads that go straight into the distance.


The store/café/motel/gas station at Villa Grove was a wonderful amalgamation. Besides convenience store items, there was also fresh produce, café with blues music playing in the background, internet access, and at least a half dozen artists of various media had their wares displayed. You were even served on pottery that was for sale. Had an early lunch, and a good thing because there was nothing to be had for the rest of the day. Even met a family from Texas in the café, and they knew a teacher at TWU. Small world.

After saying 'Adios," I headed down the 'gunbarrel highway', fifty miles of ruler-straight road that bisects the valley. Was a little nervous out here in the open because off to the west, you could see a pretty strong rain storm. I had a crosswind, so I went as fast as I could to beat it. I hoped that it would wear itself out coming over the mountains, but the sanding water along the road didn't bolster my theory much.

Before I got to Alamosa, I turned east toward the Great Sand Dune National Monument. The storm had indeed run out of steam, so I had sunshine the whole way. Before getting to the park, I passed through the Zapata Ranch. It took me hours to cross it, and the next day, a couple more hours to leave it behind. The landscape reminded me of the savanna in Kenya. Had lots of people wave and give me the thumbs up today. The only downside to visiting the park is that it is about eight miles off-route. And uphill!

After probably eight hours of solid biking, I arrived at the visitor center. The dunes were impressive. They rise almost 750-feet above the valley floor. Just to get to the base, you walk almost a half a mile across what they call a sand sheet. These dunes are a good example of why I'd love to have a partner. After this long day, all I wanted to do was take a picture and got to camp. But, I'm sure if I was with someone, I'd want to go exploring or at least climb part of the way up the dunes. Some things are better shared.

The two dots in the very center are people

This park also highlights the mish-mash of how cyclists are treated. The ranger at the gate said that cyclists get in free (why here and not other national parks?) but I still have to pay full price for a campsite. Policies really do discourage people traveling alone, even though they put less strain on the system.

Didn't really feel like doing much except eat dinner and go to bed. None of my fellow campers nearby seemed talkative, so I turned in early.