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A Sandy Spring Break

So many college students around the nation jetted off to resorts in Mexico, Southern California, or Florida for their spring breaks, and I too got to spend some time in the sand! Colorado.

That's right! Joe and I drove down to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for a quick getaway last week. It's only a four hour drive and I don't know what took me so long to get there because it is BEAUTIFUL!

We stayed at the Great Sand Dunes Lodge, which was adorable and only a minute away from the park entrance. After checking into the lodge at about one, Joe and I headed into the dunes! It was a bright, sunny afternoon- part of why we loaded up and high tailed it out of the Denver area so fast was because we saw there were only 2 days of okay weather down around the dunes and by golly we were going to make it there!

We started up the dunes and were having such a good time! Clouds had begun moving over us blocking the sunshine a bit but it only made us a little chilly!

When we got to the top of High Dune, however, we were treated with this view:

And then we watched that turn to this:

And after putting on rain jackets we quickly turned around! We ran like crazy people down the dunes, laughing the whole way! We got halfway down when the sun came back out and we realized the storm had gone around us completely. The sand dunes like to play tricks on the eyes- the storm looked really close and was only a few dunes away, but it's easy to forget that each dune is massive!

We saw blue skies again after this storm passed, but it was nearly dinnertime so we decided to just head on down to the car anyways. We had blue skies ahead of us, but grey skies behind us so it was quite the shock when we got to Medano Creek at the base of the dunes and it started hailing on us! It took us 20 minutes to cross the creek the first time as we were trying to avoid getting our shoes wet, but we weren't about to take that long this time! Joe had already taken his shoes off about halfway up the dunes, so he just picked me up and ran to get to the car. It certainly was a day filled with odd weather, because five minutes later there was blue sky and sunshine again!

You can see in the panorama above the storm clouds that were moving over towards the right of the picture. It was crazy how fast they passed!

We returned to the lodge to cook dinner, and were so wiped out we fell asleep watching Cake Wars. We truly are such cool college kids.

The next morning we returned to the dunes to hike around more. Joe turned on his GPS watch this time and we hiked 5 miles! The weather was much better and stayed sunny all morning. It was colder because of more wind, but we didn't mind! We were so amazed at how different the dunes looked after just one night. There was no snow left on their peaks and the sand looked so smooth because there hadn't been many people hiking up the dunes yet. It looked like a different place!

We left the sand dunes at lunch time and hit the road to go to the Calhan paint mines. Here, geological formations are found in what seems like the middle of nowhere, originating from where indian tribes collected clay. Upon arriving, we pulled into a small gravel parking lot in front of really small rolling hills, some windmills off in the distance, but not much else. We got out of the car and walked along the not-so-promising path to the first formations.

It really wasn't much and the promise of "breathtaking" colors wasn't being fulfilled. We decided to walk a little further though because it was a beautiful afternoon. All of a sudden we rounded a bend and THERE were the paint mines we expected!

The colors were stunning and seeing them right before sunset really helped make the pinks and oranges pop! It was kind of a bummer though because the beauty of the formations made them very inviting to crawl on, despite signs everywhere saying not to. We watched a photographer taking portraits of a woman who was standing all over the tops of the very fragile formations and we watched her kick off chunks of the formation. I'm sure her pictures were beautiful, but it certainly came at a cost to this park. We tried our very best to stay on the paths or dirt areas to help protect this unique place!

It was a first for me to forego planning, so we didn't have any clue where we were staying that night. I'm sure we could have found a hotel room in Colorado Springs, but we chose to forego that for a cheaper option and tried to camp somewhere. Campgrounds weren't yet open for tent camping (thank goodness, more on that later), but we found a KOA in Limon where we could stay in a tiny cabin. The cabin was very small, but it had lights, a heater, beds, and a communal bathroom in the main building just a minutes walk away. Glamping is my kind of camping!

We had brought a cooler full of food so tonight's dinner was eating leftovers and potato salad (which always tastes better when camping). We were both so wiped out we were asleep by 9 and I'm so glad we were because we were back up by 10:45. Huge storms were moving in and passing through and I was sure the cabin was going to lift off the ground and fly away! The wind was so, so loud and we were awake for a while because of it. We are so very glad not to have been in a tent!!

We headed home the next morning via Castle Rock so we could stop in Castlewood Canyon State Park. It was a really rainy, gloomy day and colder than either of us prepared for! We didn't stay long, but it was another state park to have visited and a beautiful canyon to have seen!

We trekked on home after this! It was a quick trip but it was fun and we felt so far away driving on lonely highways for most of it which is just what we needed! You can see more of our photos below! Click on each image to see a larger version.

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