Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monument Valley, AZ to Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

Coming into Monument Valley, AZ
My last post left off in the rainy Grand Canyon (could it really have been a week ago that I was there? Yikes!), an adventure which took me pretty quickly to Kayenta, AZ on account of not-so-nice weather. 

Instead of spending the evening camping at the Grand Canyon, I moved on to the town about 30 minutes outside Monument Valley, and got a hotel since my camping gear was still wet from the night before in Flagstaff. (And so was I after my rainy Grand Canyon excursion.) For the first time of a trip spent mostly in Utah and Arizona, I was in need of a hot shower and a dry space.
Monument Valley
The Grand Canyon leg of this trip was my most abrupt teacher: nothing really went as planned, I was slightly disappointed that I had to call my Grand Canyon camping adventure off, and I found myself alone in Arizona that afternoon, wondering what to do and where to move next to stay slightly on-schedule and not throw off any of my other reservations.

There's something about being all alone and having to confront yourself and call your own shots when things don't go as planned, and the elements are working against you, and you're sort of far from home, in the middle of a vaguely-planned but highly engaging adventure.

For a while there, sitting in the parking lot of a McDonalds and wondering what would be the best thing to do that night, I kind of just wanted to curl up in my car and sleep, or teleport to somewhere dry.
Leaving Monument Valley
So needless to say, I pressed forward. I learned a few things that day, the first of which was that things don't always go like you expect them to go. (Okay, so I already knew that.) But what I mean is, that sometimes you travel a very long way to see or do something; you make an investment of time and energy, and the yield isn't always equal to the input.

That's life. It happens, and I had to tell myself that the Grand Canyon wasn't going anywhere. I'll just have to come back (hardly the end of the world!) And the more these unexpecteds happen to us, the better we get just letting it go. It's okay to be human and feel frustrated- and it's mature and composed to act out of an instinct higher than primal emotion. 

So that's what I tried to do as I called my day at this infamous park and headed to drier pastures.
Knife Edge Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, CO
When I arrived in Kayenta, I rested. I am learning to do this well: to shut off. Sometimes there's no use plotting, planning, overthinking or thinking at all. Sometimes- most times- the best answer is to be. As someone with a strong bend to want to see and do it all, I would have preferred to be camping in the Grand Canyon than staying in a hotel drying my tent off with bath towels, sure. 

But I was staying in a hotel drying my tent off with bath towels. And instead of getting frustrated, my instinct became to tell myself that it was fine, and then to actually believe that. 

It's an apt metaphor for life: when we learn to be where we are- wherever that is- it's all good.
Mesa Verde NP trail run
And of course, it was. I got a good sleep. I regrouped. I enjoyed access to hot running water, cleaned my car out a little (including the glass on my dashboard from an oncoming rock to my windshield that day, another little misfortune), and had a hot breakfast that morning. I took off for Monument Valley in pleasant, sunny weather, and then headed back into Colorado. 

Beautiful, inspiring, oh-so-special-to-my-heart, make everything all better again Colorado. 
Coming back across the border, it felt like going home again. I was reminded of what drew me out there way back in January, when I first arrived. There is something so special and wonderful about the state: the way the clouds and the mountains transform each other, the way the sky and the earth are competitively beautiful to the observing eye, the way the air gets colder and more refreshing with each mile climbed.

The mountains. Those views like no other. The now-familiar feeling of a land so dynamic the beauty never, ever, ever repeats itself, and never gets old.
I've been amazed all year long at how I can look at the same views, run the same roads, hike the same trails, over and over and over again, and not even come close to having any of it feel stale. The way the sunlight hits, the way the clouds form; the way the wind feels, the snow falls on the peaks, the shadows play between sky and ground- every time you look at the exact same scene out there, somehow, it's refreshingly different.  
Autumn in Colorado 
Mesa Verde National Park was my first stop back in the Centennial State: it's in the lower Southeastern region of Colorado, and I got a lovely glimpse of the quick coming of Autumn. 
In Mesa Verde I hiked and did some much-needed running to get out a little and stretch my legs after my three hour drive from Monument Valley. The road through the park was over twenty miles long itself, so I stuck to the lower sections closer to the visitor's center end than the far end. 

Thankful for good weather and a pretty solitary, tourist-less visit, I left Mesa Verde for nearby Durango that evening.
Durango was an awesome little place with a lively downtown and nice historic district. I took myself to a pub for dinner and watched some live music, planning out my adventure for the next day. 

I knew I either wanted to see the much-recommended Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, or Great Sand Dunes National Park, either of which would have taken me in the direction of Estes Park, where I needed to end up.

Having decided that I'd seen my fair share of Colorado canyons over the past few months (not that you can ever see too many canyons), I opted for the park that piqued my interest because it was mostly unique and unknown to me.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO
Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, and it was a truly fascinating place. On the way to basically nowhere and nothing, I arrived here on a sunny afternoon and wasn't sure what to expect. 

I did some hiking near the park entrance that provided cool views of the dunes, then drove further into the park and got to the actual sand itself. 

Cue a lot of fun and just the kind of day I needed.
Barefoot hiking in the dunes
The surrounding mountains from the sand dunes
The dunes are basically in a huge wilderness area, and I believe the sign to enter into them recommended to 'go wherever your curiosity takes you.'

So I spent all day doing just that.
Medano Creek 
Though obscenely windy, I wouldn't say it was hard to navigate or hike in this park. I actually found it easier to go barefoot while I was hiking the High Dune, the most popular hike which is about 700 feet tall and provides amazing views of the surrounding area. 

There was a creek to wander through, sand storms to bear, and, the most fun of all, sandboarding. I was really glad I stopped here: it was just the change of pace, change of scenery, and fun outing I needed after leaving Arizona. 
A view of the dune surface as seen from the edge of my board
After the Great Sand Dunes, I headed to Colorado Springs for a night before heading back up to Estes Park... more to come on that soon.


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