Salida and Great Sand Dunes N.P.
Updated: May 16, 2020
We left Ridgway State Park in Colorado and are headed to our first Boondockers Welcome host near the town of Salida, Colorado. The drive was approx. 3 hours and for the most part pretty uneventful inside the truck, thankfully, but truly a site outside of the truck. Fall colors are just starting to pop and the drive was a scenic one topping out at 11, 312’ at Monarch Pass.
We arrived at our host’s house and found them to be set right off the highway with a nice treed area for us to park. They let us fill up on water and before we were situated, we were invited to join them on the patio for a beer. Groceries were needed first so we ran into town and upon our return we joined them for a beer and exchanged travel stories. We had noticed all of our hosts vehicles had their hoods up and we couldn’t figure out why so we asked. Apparently pack rats are common in this area and love to make their homes among closed engines, but if hoods are left up they’ll leave them be. I honestly thought ”pack rat” was just a saying, myth, an old wives tail, or just a saying my mom liked to use on me.
We explored the town of Salida, walked their river front, played at the park, ate at a yummy Phó restaurant that also served Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Yeah!) and visited the library for a bit.
We decided to extended our stay a third night at our host house and they graciously said yes. We headed off to mountain bike a trail Steve found just outside of Salida called the Spartan East Trail. It was a nice single track trail, rated at a beginner level, but proved to be a bit difficult for Lila. The elevation was about 8,000’ and she winded easily. She also crashed and burned, not once, not twice, but three times, and the third was a bit of a doozy. She’s still working on braking slowly and gradually, rather than at the absolute last minute and hard, which isn’t a good way to go especially on gravel.
It was time for us to leave the Salida area and head South towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park. This has been a stop that we’ve debated about going to for a bit now. Clearly, it’s a National Park, so it should be a yes, but sand dunes? You can find those on the Oregon coast no problem, and quite honestly, I’m not a sand person. It is messy, it gets everywhere and seems to stay with you for a long, long time! We had spoken to a few people in the last few weeks that said it was a good stop, not one that required 3 or 4 days, but a day or two was good, we finally decided to go. Besides, Lila loves the sand! Every time she visits the beach, it’s like a first for her. Her eyes light up, her heart is full of so much joy and she’s truly lost in the moment.
The drive to the sand dunes started off very scenic so I was excited! Aspens in full color transformation, does it get any better? Less than 30 minutes into the 2 hour drive, the landscape had flattened out and was pretty bare and desolate. I’m honestly not sure what people do out here.
Bob apparently wasn’t impressed with the drive either as he had a bit of an accident and needed a bath once we got to our next home for a minimum of 2 nights.
We were unable to book past the second night because, as of October 1st, they are a first come first serve campground. We’ve since decided that the calm of the sand dunes, the view, sunsets, and low cost fee were all good reasons to stay a few more nights ($20/night). Also, we have an Amazon package to pick up in a town 30 miles from us, and it won’t be here for a few days, so another reason to hang out.
The sand dunes are pretty amazing. The dunes start out at around 8,230’ elevation and the tallest dune is 750’ above that which makes it the tallest dune in North America. There are 5 in total that are over 700’ tall. We first visited the visitors center and attempted to get our Junior Ranger books, but they were out so we ended up with an 11 x 17 double side piece of paper to work off of. From there, we headed out to the dunes and let's just say Lila was in heaven until….. the winds picked up. It seems the day we arrived they had higher than normal winds, averaging around 25 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph. Steve and I were up on one of the lower dunes and Lila decided to run around below the hillside when the wind really picked up. Poor girl was trying her best to cover her eyes and face yet still get to safety.
She is in red out in the distance on this video.
Steve rescued her and all was good. She surely wasn’t ready to head back either. She was ready to give the dunes another go, and has been at them as much as possible the last few days.
The next day we went into the town of Alamosa to use the library. Alamosa is a good 35 - 40 minute drive, but the campground had limited internet access and today was a work day and school day.
I woke up Tuesday morning to Steve instantly talking about a family he messaged through Instagram that was part of the Fulltime Families group that we also belong too. He had seen on Lindsay’s IG stories that they were at the Sand Dunes and messaged her to see if they were still here and if they’d want to meet up. He also mentioned that we had a 10 year old child that would love to meet some other “full time” kids. The Fulltime Families group provides support in multiple ways for families living a nomadic lifestyle. Lindsay and her family were staying about 20 minutes away with two other families that were also part of Fulltime Families. Between the 3 families there are 10 kids, with an age range of approx. 5 - 18. I had originally thought we’d run into more kids along the way, but we’ve only run into a few in the last 7 weeks, so this opportunity was a great one for Lila and us as well.
Lindsay said to meet them at the Sand Dunes at 10:30am. We grabbed a sand board and headed out. Once we met them, Lila was off within minutes with the kids and Steve and I were talking to all of the parents and learning about their full time journey. One family has been on the road for about 2-1/2 years and the other two I believe were both near a year each. We exchange stories and then they invited us back to their boondocking site to hang out and visit, which of course we said yes to. We absolutely loved meeting up with this group and I am so glad Steve reached out to them. We will hopefully be meeting up with them in either Texas or Florida, or who knows maybe somewhere in-between.
After our meet-up Steve, Lila, and I headed back to the trailer to get ready to hike High Dune. The park recommends that you climb to High Dune via a ridge near the visitor’s center. We were staying at the campground a mile or so from the visitor’s center and had a dunes access hike near us so we took that instead. Needless to say, the hike up to High Dune from our campground was definitely hard! Our path was not direct and I’m pretty sure we climbed a few more dunes and ridges via this way, rather than if we had gone to the visitors center to start. One of the dunes was so steep and the sand so soft that we attempted to crest it going diagonally, but Lila decided that would take to long and she went straight up via a bear crawl. Steve and I joined in, it was comical at best, but we all made it to the top of that dune where we found hard packed sand and made our way to High Dune. We made it just in time for sunset which did not dissapoint. The skies were clear, the moon was a 1/4 full and the colors gorgeous.
Our trip down went way quicker! We each took turns riding the sand board down. Steve and Lila both got fairly long runs in, while both of mine included crashes about halfway through, but there were still fun!
Tomorrow, we’re off towards Taos, New Mexico. Steve found BLM sites that are about 15 miles outside of Taos and only $7.50 a night. If we’re lucky we’ll even get one with water and electricity. Stay posted to see how we make out.