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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Swing Through Three of Colorado’s National Parks


Each summer for the past several years we have taken two of our grandkids on a weeklong RV trip. Last year we went to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks. This year we decided travel to three of Colorado’s four national parks. We skipped Rocky Mountain National Park as everyone lives reasonably close to Rocky Mountain and we have all camped there several times – going all the way back to our tent camping days.

This year’s trip included Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks.

Cousins Ella 10 and Caleb 12 are seasoned RV travelers. Armed with iPhones they buckled themselves in and off we headed for our 275-mile journey to Great Sand Dunes NP. Less than 30 minutes down the road a voice from the back yelled, “Hey Granny, want to play some cards?” And so as is the custom, I lost my navigator to a trip filled with lots of laughter and hours of rummy.

We pulled into Sand Dunes around 2:00pm. All good – not so fast. I knew we were at the campground maximum advised length of 35 feet. I had checked the site out on the Reserve America site and on and it looked like it would work out just fine.

It was much tighter than I had anticipated. So, instead of just pulling in I spent a good 45 minutes carefully maneuvering until I had succeeded in parking where we were level, could open all the slides, were not encroaching on the main campground road and had enough room to exit the coach. Whew! We even got settled before a good afternoon rain. All Good.

That afternoon we hit the visitor center, picked up souvenirs and watched the movie. Tomorrow we would tackle the dunes.

It was only about a ½ mile hike from our campsite to the dunes. Thanks to our wet spring, Medano Creek was flowing at almost twice the norm for that time of year (June 14). In fact, some of the surges made it hard to stay upright – and yes the water was very cold. The kids (ok me too) had lots of fun crossing the creek.

We were out early enough that we had this section of the dunes to ourselves and spent a good portion of the morning climbing and playing in the sand.

On a side note: Anyone who knows JoAnne knows that she is a mosquito magnet. Unfortunately, she was literally attached by a swarm of the nasty little buggers and ended up covered in bites.

Our afternoon was spent taking a short trip to the Fort Garland Museum. The Fort was established in 1858 to protect settlers in the San Luis Valley. Following the confinement of the Utes to reservations the fort was abandoned in 1883.

That evening was spent on a very serious game of Monopoly. Early to bed... for tomorrow we head to Mesa Verde.

The 208-mile trip from Sand Dunes to Mesa Verde along Hwy 160 passes through some spectacular country including 10,856 ft. Wolf Creek Pass and the towns of Pagosa Springs and Durango.

While we had no hookups at Sand Dunes we had full Hookups at Morefield Campground at Mesa Verde. Nice long showers for everyone!

Mesa Verde is a special place and one of our favorite national parks. We have been there many times but we never stop being awed by this amazing place. Besides driving the North Rim and Chapin Mesa roads, visiting the museum and watching the orientation movie we walked through Spruce Tree House and took guided tours through Cliff Place and Balcony House.

Both Ella and Caleb were fascinated by the cliff dwellings and the ranger talks describing life as an Ancestral Puebloan. OK, it was more fun climbing all the ladders and crawling through tunnels.

We had every intention of attending the evening ranger program but we were all just to worn out to make the 9:00pm talk.

Next up, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The 154-mile drive along Hwy 145 from Mesa Verde to Back Canyon is nothing short of jaw-dropping beautiful. The Million Dollar Highway (550) through Silverton and Ouray gets all the notoriety but Hwy 145 is impressive – especially around Mountain Village above Telluride and the Dallas Divide coming into Ridgway.

The campground at Black Canyon has no hookups – actually, there is no water anywhere to fill up tanks and no dump station. And if I thought the site at Sand Dunes was difficult – Ha! We never made it into the reserved site at Back Canyon. Luckily, there was a large unattended site right across from our intended site that worked just fine.

Besides seeing the impressive canyon, the main reason we stopped at Black Canyon was to attend the annual Black Canyon Astronomy Festival. The introductory ranger talk started at 9:00pm with the star party starting at 10:00pm. Yep, we all made it and were very glad we did. Astronomers from as far away as Albuquerque were there with their amazing telescopes. Besides seeing some typical views of Jupiter and Saturn we got a great view of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) – perhaps not as great a look as pictures from Hubble but still... The international space station passed overhead and the Milky Way dazzled.

As a bonus, the campground was playing nursery to mamma deer and their newborn fawns.

We had a great trip filled with memory making adventures. We are blessed.

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