Road Trip 3, Part 5: Enter Utah, a Land Unlike Any Other

The route thus far:
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Desolate. Bleak. A seemingly endless landscape of other worldy rock formations. Southern Utah is home to one of the most unique and spectacular landscapes in the world. An area which would look more at home on Mars than on Earth. A place preserved by five National Parks and numerous other National Monuments shall forever keep this unique part of the planet wild and open to the public at large.

Sign for the Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley

Heading west from Mesa Verde my first stop was the legendary Monument Valley. The backdrop for so many legendary western movies, this red, barren, flat desert has many seemingly impossible red towers reach up from the desert floor, impossible pillars of stone. These giants of the desert floor were formed through millions of years of erosion from an ancient dried up sea which used to cover the area.

Monument Valley

The Earth’s ever moving crust, pushed this once near sea level area thousands of feet into the sky, part of the Colorado Plateau much of the area sits above 5000 feet in sea level. The story of this land is not a finished one, constantly changed by eroding winds, this landscape will continue to change and form dazzling formations which will continue to challenge our perceptions of how amazing nature can be.

Panoramic of Monument Valley

Heading up the road from monument valley I discovered another incredible sight I didn’t even know existed in Utah, an incredible cliff formation which forms an incredible mesa that separates the desert from the brushland of the area. The drive takes you on various switchbacks across this incredible landscape which stretches for as far as the eye can see.

View from Cedar Mesa on Utah 291

Known as the Moki Dugway the drive turns into a rugged dirt road up the side of the Cedar Mesa. The views from both the bottom and the top of the Mesa are awe inspiring. Climbing higher and higher up the Mesa gives you a great respect for just how massive these rock walls are. Winding up over 1200 feet from the floor of the massive cliffs.

View of the road on the Moki Dugway

Heading up past the Moki Dugway the landscape transforms dramatically. High above the desert floor below raises a plain full of vegitation. The wonderful Natural Bridges National Monument preserves some of this land along with three gigantic natural bridges which formed out of ancient sandstone.

Part of the Landscape at Natural Bridges National Monument
Owachomo Natural Bridge at Sunset

For a short drive and relatively small park, three spectacular Natural Bridges, Kachina, Owachomo and Sipapu are well worth the time to explore and gaze upon their grandeur. While not as well known as the other wonders in Southern Utah the Bridges stretch across vast portions of sandstone escarpments making them fascinating in their own right. Formed by flash flooding and streams these are unlike Arches which are formed by wind.

Kachina Bridge and the Surrounding Landscape

Making my way away from the Bridges, I had my sites set on a park I had been yearning to go to for some time, the incredible Canyonlands National Park.

View of the drive into Canyon Lands Needles Unit
Canyonlands Entrance Sign

Separated into several different units, Canyonlands is an expansive land of needle like spires, white sandstone rimmed canyons and other fascinating rock formations that seemingly surround you anywhere you are in the park. I set out on foot to explore this incredible area and was not disappointed by the landscape.

View of the red slickrock in Canyonlands

Climbing and traversing this land is like stepping into a time machine. Layers and layers of these rocks were formed from the same ancient sea that lent it’s hand to the other wonders in this area. The different layers each represent a different era of time in the earth, millions of years separating each layer which eventually added up to the bizarre but beautiful landscape that exists today in Cayonlands National Park.

Up close view of Needles in Canyon Lands National Park

Adventure awaits any who endeavor setting foot in this land. Climbing over slickrock, sliding through canyons and spotting distant cairns are among the things that make hiking at this Canyonlands as unique as the landscape itself. This is not your average walk through a forest, setting foot here is an unforgettable experience.

White rimmed mushroom like rocks in Canyonlands

While adventure waits the Canyonlands should not be taken lightly. I had to help lead several people out of the beautiful but long and strenuous Chester Park trail. It covers over 11 miles of incredible scenery in the wilderness with incredible panoramic views of the Needles and Canyons of this region.

One of the panoramic views from the Chesler Park Trail
Me on the Chesler Park Loop in the narrow slot canyon you hike through

There is no way to go wrong exploring this vast expanse of wild country. This part of the park, Needles, is only a third of the actual park. There are two other parts yet to explore, the more popular Island in the Sky and the less developed Maze region.

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Moon rising at Canyonlands at sunset

Just scratching the surface on the incredible wonders of Utah, I have my sites set on Arches and the Island in the sky region of Canyonlands next. Until next time, the sun sets on another amazing chapter of my journey.

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Third Trip, Part 4: San Juan Skyway and Mesa Verde National Park

The route thus far:

Southwest Colorado. The last frontier before my entry into Utah. The last of the Great Colorado Rockies and the entry into the vast and beautiful desert of Southern Utah. About 150 miles of scenic byway separate Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde. Taking the route Southwest through via the San Juan Skyway US Route 145.

San Juan Skyway Sign

The route cuts Southwest across the beautiful San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. Here, like the Mountains to the east, the trees are ablaze with beautiful color changes.

San Juan Mountains near Tulluride

Passing such cities as Tulluride and Mountain Village Grand panoramic Mountain views greet you at every Mountain pass. Some Mountains stretching over 14,000 feet challenge your car to creep up their epic slopes.

San Juan Mountains
View of the Lizard Head Wilderness

Driving through valleys with trees ablaze down towards the epic Mesa’s of South Western Colorado is an epic sight. The transition from Mountainside to desert brush land is not quick, but the differences are dramatic. From changing and mighty trees to much smaller ground clinging plants, containing their energy and in constant search of water these grounds form a harsh environment for the animals and people that call them home.

Panoramic View of Mesa Verde’s Canyon area

Up in the distance though, high above the flats, an epic Mesa, a vertiable oasis in an otherwise harsh environment, a land so fertile and life sustaining to the ancient people who lived there they named it Mesa Verde, or “green table”.

This Mesa sits high up on the country side providing a valuable defense for its former inhabitants. The marks of the Pueblo people that used to live there are remarkably well preserved and beautiful.

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These relics of the past societies that lived here show at least one thing: they picked a damn good place to build a city. Many ruins are much as 2000 years. The ancient cities built into the cliff were left more around 800 years ago.

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Me, with way too many straps on my body, in Balcony House
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Balcony House

Photosphere of the view:

https://goo.gl/photos/P8xUVEACi9a6UKUN9

Deciding to get a closer look I went on a tour of one of the dwellings and it gets you a beautiful up close look at the dwellings. The way which they are constructed by a people who were without metals and had to make everything with stone tools. All this with relying on foot travel, as it was their only form of transportation. These were an industrious people, they made use of the land and were great farmers. They raised turkey and dogs, they were also astronomers using different tools to identify the changing of the seasons.

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Mesa Verde is a park more about the culture and history of ancient Native American Cultures from a time gone by. The landscape is gorgeous and the cliff dwellings serve to stir something in the imaginations of us all.

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As I was readying myself to watch the sunset at an old fire lookout tower (which is still in use) and taking in an amazing view of the surrounding area, I met a fellow road tripping warrior named Jay. He and I both have a bit of a propensity for long epic trips; he has actually been on the road since January of this year seeing all 50 states. We exchanged travel stories and ideas and even shared a camp later that night. Meeting new friends is one of the best parts of traveling, especially when viewing a magnificent sunset.

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Overall Mesa Verde is a wonderful National Park that preserves both a wonderful natural landscape and part of our American heritage in spectacular fashion.

Third Trip, Part 3: Taking the Silver Thread West to the Black Canyon

Head West. The thought just makes me smile. Pushing further west on my journey means I’m getting close and closer to such American wonderlands such as Zion, The Grand Canyon and Yosemite. There’s still more to see before those parks for me here in Colorado, I had my sites set on the mighty Black Canyon on the Gunnison River. This was a park I hadn’t heard much of before my trip, the name alone makes it intriguing. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park strikes a certain feeling of power coming from such a mighty Canyon.

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The route so far
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The route so far

I first had to cross the mighty San Luis Mountains first. I made my journey West across the San Luis plain just outside the Great Sand Dunes, crossing a vast expanse of dusty desert to the base of the mountains.

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View of the San Luis vegetation type and bonus sand dunes

Fortunately crossing these plains is a simple matter as the roads are straight and fast unlike the Mountain roads you get so accustomed to driving out here. Making my way into the valley I stopped in a town called Crede to watch the Packers game (Go Packers!). When I awoke in town the next morning I realized what a beautiful area for a city.

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Right in Credes back yard

The town used to be an old mining town but now focuses mostly on tourism. I was just happy to find a place to catch the game and got some great views to go with it. Lucky me.

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Pushing past Crede led to a full day of driving through varied Mountain landscapes. Highway 149 or the so called “Silver Thread” highway is a scenic by way through some of the most beautiful Mountain country in the lower 48. The changes in elevation bring everything from Aspen trees changing color, Rocky outcroppings, desert like underbrush and much more. This also used to be an old mining boom area when prospectors came here in search of gold and silver, hence the name of the Silver Thread byway.

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View of : insert: Lake

Photosphere Shot:

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View of the San Luis Mountains and leaf color changes

Red, orange and yellow blaze past the windshield of the car as I press West. The views of these Mountains deserve much exploration, but I grow impatient with my progress West so I press on towards the Black Canyon. Passing through the nearby Curecanti National Recreation area I grew restless and needed to get out of the car for a few hours so I turned off the road and headed for the best trail I could find: Dillon Pinnacles.

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Part of the Massive Reservoir/Lake

The Pinnacles are a peculiar Rock formation, formed millions of years ago when South Central Colorado was the site of considerable volcanic activity. The formation of denser stronger rock allowed it to survive the nearby rock couldn’t and it the resulting rock formations tickle the imagination.

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Part of Dillon Pinnacles
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Panoramic of the Pinnacles with the Lake

Photosphere: insert photosphere!

After I had my fill of volcanic activity rocks for one night I knew my destination was close. I still could not stop myself from getting out at two more spots along the way. Stopping at the (blank dam) and the (blank dam). Both were exhibits in stunning, craggly Canyon that were but a preview of things to come.

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After I diverted myself for the last time I took one final turn on the road with the sign pointing towards the Black Canyon.

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Finally!

The day was short though and it was too late to see anything in the park anyways so I headed towards the campground when my attention was grabbed by a spectacular sunset.

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Sunset at the Black Canyon

The next morning I awoke with one thought in mind. I need to climb down into this canyon. I made my way to the first overlook before the visitors center where I would devise my route. I took my time gazing into the canyon for the first time.

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View of the Black Canyon from Timochi Point

The people at the visitors center recommended the Gunnison route. The easiest or at least the most convenient way to get into the canyon.

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Last chance to turn around!

The “climb” down into the canyon is more like a controlled slide to the bottom. The route is steep and poorly marked, it’s easy to lose your way on the return trip.

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Chain to assist you on the non trail

The rocks shift with every movement of your feet on them. The ground unwilling to sit still, it stirs almost angrily at every compression upon its surface. Fortunately I was wise enough to bring trekking poles on the trip down, almost as a necessity to have a means by which to catch yourself if your feet slip (and they did and will).

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View of the Canyon on the way down
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Part of the trail, it's a little rough

I passed another man who was recording how long it took him to get down and then up, he was on 36 minutes his way up. Intrigued I wanted to see how long the rest trip down took, mind you I must’ve been around half way down at this point.

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About half the time it took to get down

It took 48 minutes down where it had taken him to get up in 36. The hike down is more like a controlled fall. Trying to stop gravity from sending tumbling down the hill. Most of the way down is an exercise in balance and keeping your feet underneath you. However, your effort is rewarded– the views at the bottom do much to astound.

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Staring up from the bottom of the 1800 foot Canyon makes you realize how small you really are. Here you sit as but a tiny observer in a massive powerful canyon. The Canyon is formed of incredibly hard rocks over a billion years old in some. The Gunnison upheaval over a billion years ago put these rocks here and only in the last two million years has the mighty Gunnison River been cutting into the land. The result is a sharp, steep, stunning canyon that boggles the mind.

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From the bottom of the canyon

Photosphere of the bottom: insert here

Sitting in the bottom of this Valley of incredibly formed rocks is quite the experience, walking around and eating a quick lunch by the river, and having the entire area just to myself was such a calming experience.

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Rocks from the bottom

The only problem is what must go down must go up, if I want to get out of the Canyon. I decided to time how long it took me to get out as well, just for hecks sake. I headed for the path again and dug in up the side of the Canyon. The way back is indeed hard to know, if not for the helpful cairns people have made it almost would’ve been impossible to know the way out.

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I sure hope this is the right way!

Fortunately slipping isn’t too big a problem on the way up. The main challenge is pushing your weight up the steep, slippery rocks to get to the top. It’s a massive cardiovascular challenge, especially in this thin air. I had to stop a few times to get my bearings and let my lungs rest. I also stopped for a nice break/conversation with another hiker headed into the Canyon. As I finally reached the top of the Canyon route I checked my time:

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Certainly better than what it took to hike down.

Taking a few minutes to regroup after the arduous hike, I headed down the road, South Rim road to be exact. The road passes several beautiful overlooks with stellar views of the Canyon.

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Long way down, over 1800 feet
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View into the Canyon
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Painted Wall from the Painted Wall Overlook

Looking out over and into the Black Canyon is awe inspiring. The depth is so deep and steep the straight drop offs are cringe worthy and vertigo inducing.  The rocks spire and craggle in such shapes it’s hard to fathom such things could actually exist.

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Gulp.

Heading to the final overlook you approach the Warner Point Trail. The trail only covers 1.75 miles round trip; I approached at sunset. The views were quite something, I arrived thinking I’d only see Canyon but I was pleasantly surprised.

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View of the meadows outside the park
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View of the nearby Mountains

The other scenery was icing on the cake to the already amazing Canyon that’s the star of the park. As the day drew to a close I realized I had picked the perfect sunset, I watched as the sun sank behind the horizon and ended my adventure with the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

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I listened to Alt J All of This Is Yours and Childish Gambino Because The Internet while writing this.

Third Trip, Part 2: A trip south down the Rockies, North Cone, Pike’s Peak and Great Sand Dunes National Park

South. Down the Rockies. Grand Lake, Grandby Lake, North Cone, Pike’s Peak and the Great Sand Dunes. Last we left my joinery I had just gone through the Rocky Mountains, this has been my progress through Colorado thus far:

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The first stop right outside of R.M.N.P. was Grand Lake, where I was lucky to be at right when the sun was setting and I was able to catch some good pictures of it. I also got to see a double rainbow when a large raincloud that crossed directly over my head settled in a nearby field.

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Just as I was watching the sun go down, I got in contact with my parents who were also in the area and met up with them for the rest of the night and we were even able to take some pictures of the stars and get dinner! What a pleasant surprise that was.

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Grand Lake and Granby Lake in that area are both a treat. Grand Lake is nestled right in the mountains and is surrounded by a quaint village with wooded board walks around the entire city. Viewing the city from the Grand Lake lodge is another great way to see the Lake.

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Grandby Lake is a bit further South down the highway nestled in Arapaho National Forest. It. Is. Massive. A dammed up reservoir it stretches far across the landscape and is beautifully framed by soaring mountains in the background.

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Walking around the Lake you can definitely appreciate it’s magnitude. It seems to be the largest Lake in the area by far, dwarfing the other lakes and dominanting the landscape.

Further into Arapaho Forest, I decided to take a hike up by Berthoud Pass. I climbed to to the summit of North Cone, right next to what appeared to be a large winter resort. It was a long Alpine hike past the treeline where the wind could whip you without any resistance. The view from the top was spectacular, all around you see for miles, distant far off Mountain Peaks. Valleys and plains many miles off in the distance.

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North Cone may not be a 14er, but it’s view is still worthy of high praise.
Click here for a photosphere of the view:
https://goo.gl/photos/dKL4iRjE49kfmbFw8

Criss crossing my way through the state, I set my next bearing for Pike’s Peak. Pike’s Peak has the distinction of being the largest Mountain in the front range of Colorado’s Rockies. At over 14,110 feet it’s massive in both width and height.

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It rises from the ground, a massive mound of earth, soaring towards the highest reaches of the great Rockies. While not the tallest in the range, it is probably the most well known, for its relative prominence and grandeur. Surrounding Pike’s Peak is a National Forest by its own name, Pike’s National Forest. Inside the national forest, down a very dusty dirt road, I made camp at the rustic “The Crags” campground.

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The very helpful Raiders Fan (he wanted me to know that) the hikes “to do” started right from the campground. I took his recommendation and hiked–no surprise here, the Crags hike. The hike ended up being one of my favorite hikes ever. You first hike through a large valley of craggly rocks.

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You then come to an amazing Summit–with less than two miles hike in. Having this view to yourself is unfair.

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Photosphere of the view:

https://goo.gl/photos/8aZVg5nCwhJba71g9

Surrounding you is an exquisite if not eclectic group of scenery. On one side you have Pike’s Peak, on another several Alpine Lakes, on yet another you are viewing into the valley and Craggly Rocks you passed on the way in.  For miles and miles your eyes are free to scour the landscape, looking for wildlife, and just to gaze upon the vast uninterrupted wilderness in front of you. All areas belonging not to man, but to beast, a land of pure nature.

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The next day, my friend Taylor, who had just recently moved to the area, met up to go on a day hike. We decided to go on a hike in the same area as the Crags. Fortunately it wasn’t quite as far up that dusty dirt road! We were able to come to the Summit of the Mountain and the view was similar to the Crags.

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Photosphere of the view here:
https://goo.gl/photos/qiZbmqXhGjvdTJ9b7

It gives different perspective on the Alpine Lakes and lends views of the gorgeous Crags Summit. The chipmunks at the top were a bit too friendly however, also there was this disconcerting sign on the way up.

imageSuffice it to say, they wanted some of what he was having. The Summit also had Raspberries growing in it. Which I suppose is appropriate for Raspberry Mountain.

After we said our goodbyes, I stopped for hot minute at Florrisant Fossil Beds just down the road. It turned out to be a bunch of fossilized redwoods which had millions of years been and to grow in a much different climate that the area used to have. Neat.

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On to my real destination. My next National Park on my tours of them. The Great Sand Dunes. Unfortunately what turned out to be around 4+ drive separated me. But what a beautiful drive it was!

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arated me. But what a beautiful drive it was!

Photosphere of the view:
https://goo.gl/photos/JK64uaznbfzW8VfR8

Heading down the road the landscape was beautiful. So unique from what I’d already seen, this area of the Rockies was… Well fast Rockier and dryer. The mountains were no longer covered by color changing leaves but now by brush and scrub plants. The San de Cristo Mountains in the distance reminded me of The Great Grand Tetons far to North.  As I drove through the sunset I was lucky to catch a picture of one at sunset.

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Driving through the Mountains for what seemed like forever I finally made it to my destination and my second National Park. The Great Sand Dunes.

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Immense. Barren. Seemingly Impossible. Sand Dunes, some over 800 feet in hurt height. The result of a dead lake, eroding mountains, steady wind patterns from the San Luis Mountains to the West. A seemingly impossible mixture of circumstances can’t together and created an unlikely oddity in Southern Colorado. These Dunes, visible from many miles on the horizon, sit nestled next to the San De Cristo Mountains, while the San Luis Creek which runs next to it gives it the effect of being a veritable desert oasis in an otherwise arrid region.

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While 800 feet might seem a small figure when compared to the 14,000 foot peaks it is surrounded by one small hike on the Dunes changes any sort of perception of “small” anyone might have had.

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Photosphere from the top:
https://goo.gl/photos/ryLZ8pE8JYXWqAzQ9

Crossing the massive beasts of sand dunes is no easy task, every step is challenging. Walking uphill on sand, where seemingly every step is swallowed by the sand is a very laborious effort endeavor. Getting to the top of high dune is no easy task, at over 650 feet high a hike to the top can take well over an hour as there are no trails here.

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As one of the few places where you can feel comfortable hiking barefoot (if you can tolerate the blazing hot sands on your ), the park and environment are truly unique in North America.

After your hike to the top, the hike down can even be a ride down. Bring a slide to the park and you can slide down the sand as if you were sledding on it.  I chose to sprint down the side of the Dunes. That seemed like a good idea until I realized the sand was very very hot.

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The Great Sand Dunes. A truly fascinating landscape hidden in the Southern Colorado Mountains. The Dunes, so impactful that they reached immense heights and created a unique ecosystem unlike any else in North America.

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Music listened to while writing this: Twenty One Pilots album Twenty One Pilots

Third Trip, Part 1: The Beginning, Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park

Third. The traditional 2nd place loser. But this time so much different. This is the start of my third major American road trip this year. The biggest difference of this trip is I’ve taken the wisdom gained on my first two trips to make it even better. I spent August literally gearing up for this trip. I knew I’d want to take better pictures so I invested in a new camera.

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A Nikon D3200 to be precise. In the first week of its use I’ve been very pleased with the results I’ve gotten from it though I need to invest the WiFi chip to get the pictures from it to this blog as of post time. Unfortunately all the pictures you’ll see on this post will be from my phone.

At any rate, I’d been planning this trip since the end of the first trip I’d taken, as this is more an augmentation of the first then a permutation of the second. My planned route entails criss crossing the state of Colorado to all it’s National Parks and heading through southern Utah and northern Arizona to see the 5 National Parks and the various other natural areas in between. From there I’ll hit Vegas for maybe a day or two then head up to Great Basin National Park in Northern Nevada and cross the state to Lake Tahoe. From there I’ll slice through Eastern California into Yosemite, Death Valley and down into Joshua Tree. From the I’ll go back through Arizona into it’s parks and perhaps Havasu Falls. I’ll then tour through Southern New Mexico. To finish off the trip I’ll be driving to Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas before swinging back up to Wisconsin ideally sometime before Thanksgiving, perhaps taking Route 66. I’ll be seeing over 20 National Parks. Hopefully meeting many interesting characters along the way.

Without further aduie this is the first part of the story of my 3rd great American Road Trip adventure.

Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska the three states you have to drive through to get through to get to my first stop on my trip, Colorado. Summer driving has always been one of my favorite things. Nothing gets my blood flowing like loud music, the open road and the summer wind blowing in my face. Unfortunately, until you hit the Rockies in Colorado much of the drive analogous to this.

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Thus much of the first two days of the trip was spent behind the wheel. Regretfully I missed such landmarks like the World’s Largest Truck stop in Iowa (sorry Iowa, but I don’t need any votes in a Primary). I made it to the center of Nebraska in the first night of driving and it was POURING. The rain got so bad that no one but semis were going over 35 miles per hour. I half way thought we might be getting hit by a tornado at some point. Luckily I was able to safely get off the road and crash a few hours at a rest stop so that I could experience this Nebraska treasure:

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Thanks Nebraska… For whatever that is. The only other thing of note on the road were a few flipped garbage trucks. My Car, the Prius of course made it to Colorado in two tanks of gas, getting around 57 miles per gallon meaning the drive only cost me around $40!

When you first see the Mountains in the distance once you’re in Colorado you’re never quite sure if your eyes are playing a trick on you. You’ve been driving for hours on end seeing nothing but an endless flat horizon, but they they appear, seemingly out of nowhere to dominate the landscape. The closer you get the more their might over the land becomes clear. These aren’t just any dingy Mountains, these are the mighty Rockies. Carved from and formed from a fiery tectonic past they rise from the North American continent to form a barrier to the gateway of a wildly sector of the Earth, the American West. A place like any other in this world, where the beasts outnumber the humans and where harsh environments exist such that not even man is able to inhabit them. There was no better place than to start my third journey out west than the Rockies.

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To get into the Rockies one must first conquer the foothills. No slouch themselves, they reach upwards of 8000 feet in elevation, certainly not the epic 14,000 peaks that pepper the great state of Colorado but intimidating in their own right. No where are the Eastern Foothills of the front range more beautiful than Boulder Colorado.

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Boulder, Colorado sits nestled in the foothills, a city where it’s extreme proximity to the mountains lends to it’s very identity. It’s the last human outpost before one has entered the great Rockies.

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The people of Boulder are acutely in tune with nature, almost famously so. There are massive networks of trails right inside the Rockies which provide breath taking views of the city. My favorite was the ever popular hike to Royal Arch, a large stone archway sitting mid way up the foothills.

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The hike is difficult, but worth the endeavor. Climbing higher and higher into the thin semi Alpine air, your lungs gasp for breath far more often than they would at sea level. Once you reach the peak though you see what all the hard work was for:

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This view, which seems to stretch into infinity. Looking back, not only onto Boulder and Denver, but onto the entirety of Eastern American civilisation. This, the main physical and metaphorical delineation between East and West American, a land that carries the continental divide, is the very view of the East, from the West. Looking upon all that is behind you, you know what’s in front of you, the great and wild American West.

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A short distance from Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Mountains so full of beauty and wonder it carries the distinct honor of being the National Park of the entire American Rockies. While driving towards the park from Boulder you start to notice the transition, no longer are the mountains mere presence the magnificence, but the wonderfuly pleasant and mysterious way weather other outside pressures shaped the Earth boggles the mind.

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One of my favorite stops in the park was the ever popular Bear Lake area. Here, you can hike to several different glacieted lakes with incredibly carved features that, only through millions of years of natural functions was nature able to form.

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Hiking about 10 miles will get you to 6 or so of the Lakes. When you get to each you are more blown away by their own unique beauty than the last.

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The Bears lake area truly is one of the more amazing in the entire Rockies. Blessed with such high peaks and glacier carved cliffs it’s the stunning section of the American Rockies this side of Glacier National Park.

Sleeping off the 10+ hours of hiking the day I had done before, I experienced a truly amazing sight,a Rocky Mountain Sunrise. When I rose early in the morning I was greeted by a truly amazing site:

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The sky was ablaze in colors I’d never seen before. I rushed to a nearby meadow to take a picture of the sun rising through the valley and caught a glimpse of what so many come to the Rockies to see:

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Oh, then there’s Gregory, the bird I developed a very brief but meaningful friendship with:

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I probably shouldn’t have fed Gregory that piece of cereal, but he was too cool to resist…

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To cross through the Rocky Mountain National Park, you must pass over Trail Ridge Road, which in itself is nothing short of an engineering marvel, completed in the early 1930s, this road takes you to the top of the Rockies. It scrapes the sky and has a uniquely harsh Alpine environment.  Viewing the vast expanses from my Prius you start to realize how mighty the Rockies are.

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The highway scrapes the sky with many portions over 12,000 feet in elevation you feel as if you’re on top of the world.

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The effects of being at such heights are immediately evident. The air has a chill to it, the wind howls, your lungs struggle for air but most importantly your bag of chips do this:

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The weather up here is unlike anything at sea level. Here thunderstorms can start at an instant and the cool air is already hard at work in September of ushering in another long harsh winter.

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Here, far above the timber line, there are no trees to slow the winds, they pierce you, seemingly instantly having no obstacles. Taking the time to walk from your car to an overlook can become a dangerous task even on the most docile seeming afternoons in almost an instant. Walking up these stairs to a view of seemingly beautiful afternoon turned into a race to the car to beat a soaking rainfall.

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Heading down off of the road, back past through the tree line, gives you a minute of relief, the air is thicker the wind does not chill you to the core with such ease, you are gliding downhill, into rapidly more favorable conditions for the human form to exist.

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Once done with the Trail Ridge Road, the road leads to an area known as the Coyote Valley. Leaving the valley brings you to the exit of the wonderful Rocky Mountain National Park into the small town of Grand Lake. As I sat on the banks of this great, ancient lake realizing though, I was feeling sad that I’d already crossed the first major landmark of the West.  As the sun started to fall further and further towards the horizon into the West I realized that it was not a moment to be sad as this was just the first in the amazing wonders of the West. These, the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the gateway to the wonders of the West, were the perfect start of a once in a lifetime adventure yet to come.

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