We had some miles on Southwest we need to use by the middle of August or lose them, so Candy planned a four-day weekend to Colorado and Utah to see three National Parks. There are 63 National Parks, and we plan to eventually see them all. We have seen well over half after this trip. I will have to check the exact count when we get home.
Our trip began poorly. Our flight from Orlando to Denver was delayed several times by lightning. We eventually left three hours late. Then when we landed in Denver, they didn’t have a gate for us, and when they found a gate, it took a while to find someone to drive the jet bridge to our plane. We ended up driving three hours in the dark through unfamiliar mountains to get to our hotel for the first night. We arrived at 0200 local time, or 0400 Florida time. Ouch.
The next morning, we got going early. Interstate 70 was closed due to mud slides, so instead of a three hour drive to get to our first destination, it took over seven hours. Along the way, we saw some interesting scenery.
Canyonlands National Park
Finally we arrived at Canyonlands National Park. Due to the long detour, we only had about four hours at the park, so we only took a small number of hikes to various vantage points and overlooks.
Our consistent disappointment on this trip was that the visitors centers at the national parks were essentially closed. All the interior displays that described the park, its formation, what to do and see, etc. were all covered, or the building was closed. (They did have the gift stores open for people to spend money — the hypocrisy of that is hard to ignore.) Part of the enjoyment of the parks for us has been spending an hour in the visitors centers to LEARN something before going on hikes. In many cases, there weren’t even any hiking maps or other propaganda available.
To me Canyonlands had the feel of both the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. While the Grand Canyon is certainly deeper, there was a majesty to the wide vistas of Canyonlands.
We took a hike out to Mesa Arch, which was not too strenuous, and the view at the end was well worth the walk.
That night we stayed in Mesa, Colorado. We stayed in the only hotel and restaurant in town. Friday night was karaoke night. We enjoyed a drink and some local color. Everyone was friendly. The karaoke varied from excellent to awful, but everyone was having a good time.
Grand Mesa National Park
Our destination for the next day was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, or “Black Canyon.” We could have taken two routes to Black Canyon. We elected for the slightly longer route that took us through Grand Mesa National Forest.
After a day of desert, a forest was nice. Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. It was wild to see lakes and creeks on the top of a flat mountain. Unlike the national parks, the visitor center at Grand Mesa was open and fully staffed. There were displays and rangers to show us the high points.
Pioneer Town, Cedaredge, CO
From Grand Mesa National Forest we headed toward Black Canyon. We stopped at a roadside attraction, called Pioneer Town, in Cedaredge, CO, which was surprisingly nice. There were a number of buildings, a frontier street, and many historical artifacts.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Finally, we arrived at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, named after the railroad engineer who first explored the area looking for a place to lay a bridge. He eventually determined that it was impassible.
As with all the national parks, the gift store was open, but the visitors center with all the educational displays were closed. Sigh.
That night we stayed in the GG Ranch bed and breakfast run by a German expatriate couple. I was looking forward the the German breakfast during the whole trip.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Four hours from our bed and breakfast was Great Sand Dunes National Park. Again the visitors center was essentially closed, but from what we could gather, there is an ancient lake bed across the valley that left a “sand sheet.” The prevailing winds have blown the sand into dunes, because the tall mountains stop the sand from going farther. Apparently these are the tallest sand dunes in North America and some of the tallest in the world.
We rented a sled to use on the dunes. The guy warned us about going too fast, because the sleds can achieve 50 miles per hour. As we were entering, an ambulance passed us, and when we got to the dunes, they were putting a guy in a cervical collar into the ambulance at the base of the dunes. We were starting to wonder if this was a good idea.
Watch these video clips of us sledding on the dunes. It was hard to make sure the the sled didn’t turn around while going down the dunes despite how much we waxed them. By the end, we were getting the hang of it.