In our last van chronicle, we explored the Southwest corner of Colorado. This past week, we continued the journey through Colorado and along the way we saw a lot of wildlife, stayed in a few Walmart parking lots, and explored two national parks. At the very end of the week, we even made a detour to Scotts Bluff National Monument.
Even though we had a lot of highlights this past week, we also contended with some weather circumstances that were less than ideal. We narrowly escaped a snowstorm in the mountains and we slept in winds of 30 miles per hour. Our winter has been full of interesting weather patterns and crazy winds like we have never experienced before. It was quite an eventful week, so you can read more of the details below!
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Table of Contents
Where We Went This Week
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
We started by spending a night in Telluride in one of the prettiest campsites overlooking the town, but then the weather called for a huge snowstorm in the mountains. We really wanted to get an excursion in, so we decided to drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison (NP #28) right after work to try and see things before the snowstorm hit. Luckily, we ended up having great timing and snow was not a problem at all.
We visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison during the mud season, which means that many areas of the park were still closed due to snow and ice. We were only able to drive up to the Visitor Center, see the viewpoints from there, or take trails that left from the visitor center. When we got out of our car to see the canyon we were simply blown away. The sheer black cliffs extend far below creating an incredibly imposing and impressive view.
Although we had planned on only going to the viewpoints, we changed our minds as soon as we saw the incredible natural beauty of the park. Dylan and I ended up deciding to take the Oak Flat Trail that descends into the canyon for further views of the river and cliffs beyond. Luckily, we had gotten microspikes before our journey into Colorado. As soon as we started the trail it was clear that we would need them.
We strapped them on and immediately found ourselves walking on a foot of snow that covered the trail. The way down was incredibly steep and I found myself going very slow down the trail. Once we got to the lookouts, Dylan and I sat on the rocks and marveled at the views that extended in front of our eyes. We both felt like this park was underrated and we were wowed by it. I would love to go back to go further into the canyon and see more of this park. However, as soon as we finished the trail we continued through Colorado to the East.
Great Sand Dunes
Dylan and I spent a couple of weeknights in Alamosa (the town outside of Great Sand Dunes) where we parked in Walmart and endured very strong winds. At night, our van would shake and I would just hope that the next day the winds would calm down. I really wanted to visit the dunes, but I was worried about sand twirling all around us and getting into our eyes.
After a couple nights, we decided to brave part of the park and we drove to Zapata Falls. This trail is a mile long and is technically located right outside of the park, but many people include it on their travels there. It was fairly warm outside, so we thought we would be fine with just sneakers on this short walk. However, as soon as we made it to the river, we realized we had a mistake.
The river was completely frozen over and you could have ice skated on it. Because we saw so many other people going in sneakers, we decided to brave the ice and continue toward the falls. Luckily, we did not have any major collapses on our way and slowly we glided to the falls. They were completely frozen, except you could see water running behind them. It was one of the most magical sights I have ever seen and Dylan and I just stood there taking it all in. We loved this hike, but we promised ourselves we would always pack our spikes for the Colorado trails.
That night, we found an amazing spot right outside of the Dunes and next to a gorgeous mountain to sleep. It was a little windy, but we were hopeful that it would go away. Unfortunately, the wind was still howling when we got up the next morning to our beautiful view. We got a few hours of work in before we headed into Great Sand Dunes (NP #29).
Dylan and I knew that we may have to contend with the wind, but we decided to brave it anyway to explore. We did the High Dune hike, which is only 3 miles, but it was probably the hardest three miles I have ever walked.
First of all, there is no real trail in the dunes, you just make your own path. If you have never hiked in sand dunes, then you will not know the hardships. Each step you go sinks into the sand, making it even harder to take the next step. It’s an uphill battle the entire time. Also, the wind was howling around us, whipping our legs and making it hard to even see ahead. Finally, after what felt like hours (but was just an hour) we made it to the peak. The view was beautiful, but the wind was too strong so we had to head directly down.
On the way down, we had a much easier time. We were cruising down the hills, but sand was also pooling in my shoes. By the time we got to the bottom of the dunes, my foot could barely fit in my shoe. We had sand in every crevice of our body from our ears to our eyes and even in our pants. We hit the road and drove three hours away to get a shower at the nearest Planet Fitness and wash the sand out of our body.
Dylan continued our journey through the gorgeous state of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, they aren’t very welcoming to vans so we had to sleep in yet another Walmart parking lot. But, the town itself was very pretty sitting just below the impressive Pike’s Peak Mountain.
We only stayed for one short day in town and we spent it exploring Garden of the Gods. This park is on the outskirts of town and has amazing red rock formations throughout. There are various hiking and biking trails that you can take. We chose to just walk around the park and explore a few routes to see what we could see. Although I thought this park was beautiful, it was also incredibly crowded on a warm Saturday day.
We wanted to go to Pike’s Peak, but unfortunately it was closed both days we were in the area. So instead we had a little date night and prepared ourselves to drive further down the road.
Scotts Bluff National Monument
Dylan and I went on a bit of a detour to get to a new state. On Sunday morning we got up early to drive to… Nebraska! Now, most people thought we were crazy for going out of our way to see this state, but I have to disagree.
Along the drive, we saw bison, Colorado pronghorn, and plenty of deer. Once we got to the Southwest corner of the state we started to see rolling hills and beautiful rock formations. The sun was shining and I knew that I was going to love our journey.
We drove to Chimney Rock first, one of the important landmarks on the Oregon Trail. It was really pretty, but you aren’t actually allowed to walk to it, so we quickly made our way to Scotts Bluff National Monument. Wow oh wow, this seriously knocked my socks off! I was not expecting to love this place as much as I did.
Immediately, we were greeted by crazy cliffs that shot up in the middle of rolling hills of green. We decided to walk up the Saddle Rock hill to the top of the monument. Standing there at the top, overlooking miles and miles of rolling hills made me feel like I was on top of the world. I could have stayed there for hours, I was so at peace. However, we did eventually make our way down the hill and back to the van.
We had a very eventful week exploring Colorado and Nebraska. I honestly fell in love with that little corner of Nebraska and I would love to go back one day. After our detour, we continued back into Colorado to continue our month of explorations. Check out the next van chronicles for more.
Places we Stayed:
- Overlooking Telluride (37.98299,-107.94941)
- Safeway in Gunnison
- Walmart Alamosa
- BLM White Mountains near Sand Dunes (37.52698, -105.59381)
- Walmart Falcon
- Walmart Scotts Bluff
Let me know in the comments what you want to hear about next time!
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