It’s been another little bit since we’ve last posted. Funny how time flies, even when you’re purposefully trying to slow things down!
I’m happy to report that despite this lapse in time away from our blogging, we’ve been quite busy exploring some truly GREAT parts of our nation’s scenic West.
One of the GREAT recent experiences we all enjoyed was the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Being from Michigan, we know sand dunes! While the “back home” dunes of Lake Michigan will always be special to us and hold cherished memories, the sand dunes of Colorado were simply amazing. The sheer scope and magnitude of this expanse of dunes was breathtaking. This is understandable, as the dunes are the tallest dunes in North America with some at over 700 feet in height. We definitely got our exercise climbing up some of the taller dunes. At nearly 7700 feet in elevation, breathing and hiking the dunesis a bit more difficult than in Michigan! Also, once we crested the “top” of one dune, we were surprised at how the dunes seemed to multiply behind the first! The Great Sand Dunes were quite busy (especially near the Visitor Center), but offered plenty of room to spread out and hike the lesser traveled ridges and valleys. The second day of our visit, we rented a couple of sandboards from a vendor right outside the park (our disc sleds weren’t up to the task) and headed up the Medano Pass 4WD only road (minus The Beast of course!). It was less busy and we found that the Sand Pit Area had some wonderful dunes for recreating on. This was definitely a highlight for all of us. We had a blast sledding down dunes of various inclines. The kids, who are a lot more adventurous (and who have better balance), really took to standing and sandboarding down the slopes later on in the day. While Jason and I had a great time as well, we really loved the beauty of the area. Not only was the weather perfect the couple of days we were there (low 70s in the heat of the day), but the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background in contrast to the blue skies and blonde dunes made for the loveliest of autumn days. With the scenery, the variety of flora and fauna, and even the running Medano Creek (which normally only runs in Spring/early Summer), we wholeheartedly agree that this park was GREAT!
Another GREAT experience we’ve had recently was our visit to the Great Salt Lake. En route from Yellowstone to our Colorado work experience in September, we reserved a couple of nights at Antelope Island State Park, just outside of Salt Lake City. This “island” is connected to the mainland by a 7+ mile causeway, which has seen it’s fair share of changes brought about by flooding and erosion over the years. It was in good shape as we hauled the “Beast” over to the island however, and gave us our first up close and personal views of the Great Salt Lake. Our campsite, in the Bridger Bay campground, had some terrific views of the lake, and had a new-ish cement patio, complete with covered picnic table. The kids made good use of the table to create and craft during the heat of the day, and we used it at night to complete some of our astronomy science work that required a good writing/drawing surface! We made a trip to the Visitor Center on the island, and since it wasn’t busy, we were able to learn a bit about the island, including the animals that inhabit it, and view the park movie (which we haven’t done much of since COVID hit). Also while on the island, we were able to see a few bison, a couple of coyotes, and thousands of fascinating brine shrimp. Our main purpose of visiting the area was indeed to get ourselves in the Great Salt Lake and experience buoyancy. First, we had to get to the lake, which was no small task. The trails out to the water were long and almost desertous. Once we neared the water, we were met with thousands of brine flies, which swooped en masse, creating the appearance of an inky cloud. There was also a pungent smell, which we attributed to the brine shrimp themselves, and while it was a smell we became used to, I can’t say it was exactly pleasant and beckoning us to enter the water. The kids braved it first…they love water. Jason and I soon followed, but maybe a bit more reluctantly. We had to wander out quite a bit to even find water deep enough to lie back in. [Fun fact: the average water depth of the Great Salt Lake is somewhere around 14 feet!] It was not the clear water of Michigan lakes that we are used to and the bottom was silty. We put on our brave faces (well at least I did), leaned back into a sort of crab walk position, and voila, we were floating! Lying there was a bit of a surreal experience. While it isn’t one of the world’s 7 natural wonders, it is truly is wonderous.
Within the last month, we again ventured into Nevada and this time visited Great Basin National Park. Not knowing much about the park, we didn’t have many expectations, which sometimes is the best way to approach a new place! We found a sweet BLM campground about 10 miles outside of the park. It was perhaps the best free campground we’ve found in the last 15 months on the road. We had picnic tables with shelters, trash bins (sometimes challenging to find when you are camping on BLM land), and a beautiful little pond in the middle of the campground. For those not familiar with Nevada, there isn’t a lot of water out here, so the pond was a lovely little oasis for sure!
We ventured into the park after we set up camp, just to pick up some basic info and Junior Ranger programs for the kids to work on. Since the afternoon was young, we decided to take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to get a feel for the park in preparation for the next day. The drive offered a great way to see the park’s diversity. First of all, the drive gained about 4000 feet in elevation. We were not only able to see the drier basin below, but juniper and ponderosa pines of the mid-elevations, and believe it or not, SNOW and a glacier on Wheeler Peak (who knew Nevada had glaciers???)! Also, the drop in temperature from the Visitor Center to the top of the scenic drive was very noticeable…brrrr! Our group decided that we’d return the next day for a hike. We were losing daylight pretty quickly.
We returned the following morning, armed with completed Junior Ranger programs, peanut butter sandwiches, and plenty of water and snacks for our hike. Having looked at the temperatures, we delayed a frigid morning adventure for one later in the day (where temperatures topped out in the high 40s at 10,000 feet in elevation). The kids got sworn in as Junior Rangers at the Visitor Center, and we again made our way by truck to the trailheads at the top of the drive. We decided to hike the Bristlecone-Glacier trail. This was marked as a moderate hike at 4.5 miles, but with 1100 feet in elevation gain. The hike was invigorating and lovely. The views were nothing short of magnificent, the trail was used, but not ultimately busy, and we were able to see some of the oldest beings on earth – the bristlecone pines. These ancient trees are older than the sequoias and redwoods in California. They manage to eek out an existence in a very harsh climate of brutal sunshine and cold, icy winters. To make their existence even more amazing, they grow out of rocky boulders, with seemingly little soil. We found the grove of trees fascinating. Several of the trees in the grove had plaques that detailed interesting facts or estimated age of a tree, or even a short story detailing how the dendrochronology was figured. The grove in itself was worth the hike.
Our group decided to venture on to the Wheeler Peak glacier. The trail at this point was filled with rocks of all sizes and shapes, so traversing was a little more difficult for those not built like a mountain goat (mainly me!). We all made it to the viewpoint however, and it was incredible. Surrounded by rocky talus walls that seem endless, this last vestige of glacier (only about 2 acres remaining) seems a bit misplaced in Nevada. Nevertheless, it prompted the majority in our party to continue on, rock scrambling for another ~1/3 mile to the actual glacier itself. The kids had a great time sticking mittened hands in the ice and posing for photos. With the sun slipping quickly over the mountains after about 30 minutes, our group decided to start heading back. It was getting a bit chilly (and the kids’ hands were cold…I did mention they stuck their hands in the ice) and dark. The hike was more difficult with the altitude, distance, and needing to do some rock scrambling, but the solitude, views, and the bristlecone pines, it made Great Basin National Park worth a visit. There’s of course much more to see and hike here, and that might warrant a return trip in the future! 🙂
So much of our country is great. The generosity of people, the beautiful vistas, the sense of community, and the numerous places to explore. We just happened to find some great spots that are not only great by namesake, but also by personal experience!