Welcome to the last installment of photos from the westward spring break roadtrip that Esten, Jeff and I took!
It certainly took a while to edit all the photos, and then a while to upload everything and blog about them. But I hope you’ve enjoyed following along with our weeklong exploration of the American West as much as I enjoyed taking the trip, shooting the photos and blogging about them.
- If you’ve lost track of where we went and what I’ve already blogged about, here is a list of all the posts I’ve written about the trip.
- If you’d like to see all the roadtrip photos that are available online (no, I haven’t posted every single photo in my blog entries), you can view them here.
And now, without further ado, let’s tackle this last set of spring break roadtrip photos!
- DAY 6 (Saturday, March 28) — cont’d.
After we crossed the Continental Divide, we didn’t chance upon any other roadside photo opportunities until we arrived in Alamosa, Colo. Alamosa is deceptively laid-out: most of the more commercial businesses and national chains are about five miles down a nearly barren highway from downtown. As we discovered later in the evening, between downtown and the commercial area, Alamosa has just about every kind of restaurant except Italian. Unless you count Pizza Hut. But I’m not going to discuss our later experiences at that Pizza Hut…
Why were we in Alamosa? Because it’s about 35 miles from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve — our last destination before heading back to Missouri the next day.
[Brief side note: I don't know if we'd really planned out or thought about this, but one of the great things about our trip was the timing.
In terms of the season, our timing was impeccable because the weather wasn't miserably cold or unbearably hot and the Grand Canyon wasn't teeming with tourists. Moreover, Black Canyon of the Gunnison didn't charge us an admission fee -- and neither did the park ranger at the Great Sand Dunes.
In terms of the time of day, our timing was consistently quite good because we'd be driving all day and arriving at our destinations in time to photograph at the sunset hour. Perfect light for the kind of landscapes we wanted!]
When we first rolled into the Great Sand Dunes, we stopped at this viewpoint along the highway for some general landscape photos.
The Great Sand Dunes, at the western base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
We drove further into the park, passed the Point of No Return (i.e., into the 4-wheel drive zone) and parked at the Sand Pit. From there, we hiked out and soon encountered the Medano Creek.
The Medano Creek, which separates the dunes from the eastern side of the park. This was HDR'ed.
Apparently, the Medano Creek does not have a permanent streambed and resembles a beach during the warm season when the snowmelt from the Sangre de Cristos raises the water level.
I’d love to see that. And I mean that in a good way.
Another note about the creek: it’s not just one streambed. It diverges into many smaller streams, which makes crossing it a lot of fun during the dry season. The widest stream was the last we had to cross, and was about four feet wide at the narrowest point we found.
Of course, I was wearing Chacos and hiking socks. So of course, I got my feet very wet and cold — and, later, very sandy after trudging through the dunes with wet socks and sandals. Oh well.
Esten, nearing the top of the first sand dune we ascended.
Jeff tears down the first sand dune we ascended. His downhill stride was at least four and a half -- if not five -- feet long.
I think it’s safe to say that this was the park where we had the most fun. Sure, it was still freezing and terribly windy. Sure, my feet were about to fall off after crossing the creek in sandals and my hands were numb beyond feeling because of the wind.
But I mean, come on. These are sand dunes in excess of 400, 500, 600 feet in height! (The tallest is 700 feet high, but we didn’t make it that far into the dunefield.) It was essentially one massive sandlot, and we had a lot of fun just messing around.
Plus, we were the only ones in the general vicinity. Not that this tempted or prompted us to do anything reprimand-worthy. But it was strange, refreshing, wonderful and almost scary to know that for these few hours, all that mattered were these big piles of sand and the three of us enjoying it.
The vista from the second or third dune I ascended.
The geology and how everything came about really, truly puzzle me. Every park and attraction we visited this trip — the isolated plateaus near Sky City, the Grand Canyon, the San Rafael Swell, Arches National Park and now the Great Sand Dunes — was simply stunning in form and beauty. I’ve tried reading up on the geologic history of all these places and am still baffled and in awe.
But eventually, you can only take so many photos of sand dunes. They all look the same after a while.
So we left. And it wasn’t until about three hours later that my feet felt normal again.
The next morning (Day 7: Sunday, March 29), we drove from Alamosa to Columbia, Mo. This meant a very long trip through first Colorado and then Kansas, and we didn’t arrive back in Columbia until about 12:30 a.m. on Monday, March 30.
Why are there no out-of-the-car-window photos of that last leg of the trip? First, eastern Colorado can’t quite compare to the rest of that great state and I was asleep for much of it. Second, as an MU Tiger, I have a moral objection to photographing anything in Kansas… unless it’s the Tigers battling either the Kansas Jayhawks or the Kansas State Wildcats on their respective home turfs.
Um. I’m really glad we were able to take this trip. And pull off our ~3,700-mile* itinerary. And take awesome photos. And have an amazing time.
When (not “if”) I have the time and money, I am going to go back West. If anything, this trip has inspired me to explore more fully the raw beauty of the American West, which certainly deserves more than a week’s worth of travel.
In the meantime, I am sad that I have no more photos to share with you but glad that I could share so much. I hope you’ve enjoyed it — thanks for reading! Keep checking back for more musings and (photo)journalism adventures!
* Despite what the embedded map information would say, I’m adding a few hundred miles for some of the off-road trips we made, as well as some longer detours.
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