Great Sand Dunes NP

Pinon Flats Campground

National Park #9 on this trip and we are feeling good. We’re probably finally hitting our stride right at the point where we need to start making our victory lap to return homeward. But let’s not think about that yet. It was an easy drive up from Taos and we even saw a blue R-series Alto along the way! I don’t think we’ve had any other sightings “in the wild” on this trip. Which is strange because I think there are quite a few of them on the road either just ahead of us or just behind us.

Tempting fate…

With just about twenty miles left on the drive, Richard hopped out and rode up to the visitor center. Way to bounce back from the hail ride! There were threats of rain on all sides, but leap frog was much easier on the run up to the park, so he kept going. We needed to dump and fill tanks before setting up in our site so we made a quick stop before the Pinon Flats Campground. This is quite a nice national park campground, but you need to be careful reading the dimensions of the pad. We were just fine, but we saw some awfully big rigs squeezing into tight corners. There were rangers and campground hosts patrolling the grounds too, so if you mess up and can’t fit, they will boot you. About the only downside to the campground is that there are mosquitos this time of year – a lot of them.

We took it pretty easy with three nights and two full days. I can happily report that my right foot is now healed enough that I can wear normal shoes! I even went on a couple of 2+ mile hikes and did not feel any ill effects. That makes this about a three week setback from one stupid spider. At least that was all though and now I can get back into person-who-hikes-sometimes mode.

View of dunes from Observation Point

The first one we did was up to an observation point where you can really see the dunes from the top down. That is a beautiful trail. You can continue up further and eventually get out to some wilderness campsites. Or you can take it as far as the “Point of No Return” dirt road parking area and then head down to the dunes. They say you can only take 4wd high clearance vehicles past the Point of No Return road. I asked about the Passport and they did not recommend it. I took them at their word and really did not want to get stuck in the sand, so we didn’t bother trying to drive it. From the hiking trail, you can see the parking area and make out the little Jeeps that continue on from there.

Tiny campground stores are super fun.

As a reward for the small hike, we stopped at the tiny campground store to get an ice cream sandwich. That is a super fun thing to have a store right at the end of your loop! They had just about everything you could imagine being a necessity (ice cream is obviously a necessity) if you are out camping. They are open from 2pm to 7pm daily, at least while we were there those were the hours. Then we relaxed in our Nemo chairs, covered in Deet.

Most excellent water bottle sling

I want to give a huge shout out to my Santa Fe friend, Marcy. She gifted me a hand crocheted water bottle sling, which turns out to be the most handy thing ever for hikes. It hangs at the just the perfect height and means my hands can be free for trekking poles. Thank you Marcy!

The next day we went out to the Zappata Falls trail – I drove and Richard biked the eight miles from the campground to the turn off. Getting to the trailhead involves driving up a very steep and rocky unpaved road for about three miles. They were doing some kind of construction work on that road, which made it extra fun and rocky. The Passport handled it just fine, but boy, Bruce2 needs a bath now. There is a primitive campground way up there, which I cannot imagine is for anything except tents or very small RVs. It’s a climb of about a thousand fee up that dirt road.

Rather rough road

From the parking area, you can hike uphill about a half mile to the falls. We knew that you’d need to wade in the river a little if you wanted to actually see the falls, because it is around a corner. It was surprisingly crowded considering how daunting a drive it was to get there. But maybe southwestern people are more used to unpaved roads than we are. In the end, I decided not to do the river wade. I could have done it barefoot, but didn’t want to slip. Or I could have done it in my shoes, but didn’t want to walk back to the car in wet socks. After three weeks of being careful with my foot, it just didn’t seem worth it to do anything stupid. And I’ve seen plenty of waterfalls. As it was, the river was nice and you could feel the cooling mist in the air from the spray just a few feet away.

Almost like being at the beach

That afternoon, we hiked down to the dunes from the campground. There is a water flow at the base which made for a much safer way to wade in the water. The dunes were ….. sandy. Not sure what else to say about that. Big and sandy and hard to walk up. Richard went a ways toward the top but was getting sand blasted by the wind. I stayed and played in the water a bit and then we headed back to Dory for dinner.

Cool sand dunes; could even call them Great

That evening, three huge RVs pulled in as part of a group from Texas. It was quite the entertainment watching them get all set up. We counted twelve bicycles stowed in one of the truck beds and on a big bike rack. There must have been at least that many children/young adults in their group. Just watching the big trailer next to us getting set up and leveled was an impressive sight. It was a tight fit for all three of their rigs. I will say, considering how many of them were in their group, they were not overly noisy. We noticed their reservations were for one night and that is just a whole lot of set up for a one nighter. I’m tired just thinking about it.

This stay marks the furthest we go on the eastward side of our outer loop. Now we track back west. We’ve still got two more national parks to hit on the way back, and some odd stops thrown in to cut the miles on slog days.

Total miles: 112.6, 16.7 mpg. Site 73 Loop 2. No hookups. Shady site, so minimal solar. Good dump and potable water fill. No or very little service. Tiny trickles of service for Verizon. The whole valley is better for Verizon than ATT.

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