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

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