Pike’s Peak was the most memorable location for Trey from our trip. He often refers to it as “that mountain with the snow.” He was so excited to get to play in the snow and throw snowballs.
Before going up the long 19-mile stretch of road to the peak I checked the oil in the car and noticed the cap to the brake fluid was missing. Who knows when it fell off during our trek across desert. As a precaution we had the brake lines flushed and the cap replaced before heading up. That road is notorious for its steep grade and lack of side rails.
At the top we played in the snow, watched the cog rail train arrive, and checked out the visitor center. That building’s heat was so high that it was stifling – especially after being outside in the windy 20 degrees.
On the way back down the mountain we stopped at area with a rock formation known as “Devil’s Playground.” It seems to have gotten its name because the ground there collects a charge during electrical storms which makes lightning seem to dance between the rocks.
Great Sand Dunes is our favorite. SinceOf the National Parks we’ve visited (which is a lot, but we’ve barely scratched the surface), our first visit in 2006, we’ve returned twice to camp and explore the fascinating, ever-changing dunes. The ecology of the place is so diverse that it makes for a wonderful educational experience, but the place is also just plain fun!
The dunes cover about 19,000 acres of the park’s 85,000 acres in the San Luis Valley of south central Colorado. With some rising to around 750 feet, the preserve holds the North America’s tallest sand dunes.
We camped over night and were able to take advantage of a beautiful sunset over the dunes in the west and a sunrise over the Sangre de Cristo range to the east.
If you’ve ever hiked a dune you know how strenuous it can be. Every two steps up, you slide one and half back. You shoes constantly fill with sand and can cause cramping in your feet as they start arching in odd ways. Once at the top though, the view makes the trek worthwhile and the icing on the cake is being able to run down! Watch the videos below for an idea of what a blast it can be cruising down the slopes with hardly any way to stop yourself.
Here are some scenes from a crisp October morning at Great Sand Dunes National Monument in southern Colorado. The panoramic photo is a high dynamic range composite of over 50 individual photos. The actual print size is 8.3 x 1.2 feet!
This series of black & white images was made at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, one of our favorite vacation spots in the US. The diversity in the ecology and landscape is so humbling. In fact, that entire region is a beautiful example of unity in diversity.
These photos were taken on one of our hikes up the dunes. I had been focusing on wide landscape shots when I started to notice the intricate patterns and details in the sand at my feet. Most impressive was the fine line across the top of each dune – the crest. As the sun began to drop in the sky the contrast between light and shadow was accentuated and the wind-carved lines in the sand seem to pop out.
The crest is the ultimate dividing line. Created by a powerful yet invisible force that separates the light from the dark and makes perfectly smooth that which was wrought with chaos.
This national park came highly recommended by a friend; she especially said that Trey would like it. She was dead on! The climbing and crawling that this historic site’s tours entail is a little boy’s adventure dreamland. I was a bit worried that Trey wouldn’t sit through the history lectures the guides gave, but he stayed surprisingly interested for a 4-year-old.
Mesa Verde National Park preserves and protects 600 cliff dwellings in southwest Colorado that were inhabited nearly 1400 years ago by the ancient Puebloans. For unknown reasons, they abandoned the area in the 1300s and it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the first local cowboys started to report finding the ruins of the civilization. In 1906, President Roosevelt created the national park and it was the first of its kind since it was established to protect the works of man.
The park offers several guided tours of different cliff dwellings; we took the Cliff Palace and Balcony House tours. Cliff Palace was the more impressive site but Balcony House was where the “strenuous” climbing and crawling (aka the fun stuff). As our tour guide explained the difficulties of the tour he looked at Trey (by far the youngest in the group) and scowled. “I don’t stop the tour for anyone. If you can’t make it you go back on your own,” he said to the group as he glared at Trey. We were very proud that Trey outperformed most of the adults as he scampered up the 112 feet of ladders on the cliff face. Take that tour guide guy!
Our chilliest night of camping on the entire trip was in the San Juan National Forest. It was a frigid 22 degrees by midnight. I wanted to shoot some star trails but the cold was so miserable that I’d run out, open the camera shutter, and run back into the tent to cuddle up with Trey and Heidi. 30 minutes later, I’d run back out, close the shutter, look at the image, change some settings, and open the shutter again. This went on for two hours before I finally got a shot I was satisfied with.
In the morning, our tent had a layer of ice over it and Heidi & Trey ate breakfast in the car with the heat on. Later as the sun began peeking through the trees and thawing things out, we explored a bit around the camp site before heading south to Mesa Verde.
This national forest was created in 1905 by President Roosevelt and encompasses nearly 1.9 million acres of western Colorado. On our drive from Black Gunnison National Park to Mesa Verde National Park we stopped to camp in the forest. Here are three panoramas I shot as we drove through the forest before sunset.