As you know, our time in Colorado for this trip was anything but smooth and easy. From a bad campground choice in Estes Park to the vortex of insanity that was TBEX, our visit to Colorado up until this point was nothing but chaotic.
So with TBEX behind us and our trip winding to a close, we headed south. Our ultimate goal was Great Sand Dunes but I always wanted to visit Salida, known as a hub for outdoorsy fun.
Our exit after the conclusion of TBEX put is in Salida towards evening. We were again flying by the seat of our pants and the campground we selected using the Campfinder app was a total dud. After our experience in Estes Park, I was not up for paying through the nose for a bare patch of dirt. It was a very unwelcoming and dismal place and I opted not to just tolerate it because I didn’t have a Plan B.
Unfortunately, the drive out past Poncha Springs cost us lots of time and it was nearly dark by the time we got back into Salida. As we returned to town in search of a place to sleep for the night, I came across a little hostel that looked quite charming. The proprietor was out so we explored a bit while waited for her to return.
Salida was indeed lovely and quite the outdoorsy mecca. With a dog along for the ride though, you’re always limited as to what you can do. As we approached the river, we were excited to see park. Seemed the perfect way to shake loose from our drive and pass the time… except once we reached the park we discovered no dogs were allowed. I’m sure they have their reasons, but that’s a big fail in my book.
Feeling alienated, we wandered back towards the hostel but still had no luck connecting with the owner. We waited a bit longer but eventually I had to acknowledge the exhaustion of not only myself, but the rest of the Camp Granola crew so we dragged our weary bodies off to find a hotel room in that late hour. We all simply needed a place to rest and it would have to be a standard-issue hotel instead of a cool hostel.
Our original plan had been to stay for two nights in Salida. That was to be camping though, not shelling out for hotels. So when we awoke the next morning, only semi-refreshed, it didn’t make sense to go through setting up camp for one night. Plus, the pall of the previous day was still strong which left us deflated. With the lure of Great Sand Dunes looming large, we sulked out of Salida without further exploration, placing our bets on the known joy that awaited us further south rather than roll the dice further in Salida. It turned out to be a good move… not long after our exit, we began hearing reports of wildfires sweeping through the area that would have forced us to reroute.
Our spirits lifted as we approached Great Sand Dunes of course. I make no secret of my love affair with the place and I was aflutter as the miles drew short.
Having gotten an early start and with only a short drive, we arrived fairly early in the day. With that time frame, we decided to stop for a geocache in a microscopic town just outside of the Dunes called Mosca. The cache happened to be in front of an old church.
As you know in geocaching, stealth is important. Aside from the cover story of just letting the dog out for a potty break, one of my other go-to stealth tactics is to whip out the camera and pretend I’m just taking pictures of the scenery while George pokes around in search of the cache.
Well as we were searching, a gaggle of folks arrived, inspecting the building with much discussion. I could see that they were curious why we were hanging out so long so I opted to just wave hi and be my bubbly self… which resulted in them offering to let me come inside the church with them. Hey, why not right? So Fred hung out with Dobby outside while George and I got to peek inside a one-hundred-year-old church that was about to be renovated.
It was a small place but I found the peeling paint and old stained glass to be a delight of color and texture. I didn’t have my tripod on hand and the lighting was dismal so I wasn’t able to do much in terms of images but it was neat to see nonetheless. One of the ladies showed us around and narrated a good bit of the history and future of the place. It was a delightful little aside that I’m glad we had the time to indulge.
What can I say? I’ve seen many remarkable places in my travels, places that altered my view of life, places I’ll never forget. But Great Sand Dunes is a place that effects me on a level beyond that. It’s like a home away from home. I’m instantly comforted by being there, instantly drawn back into its magic as if I’d never left. The trials of Denver, Salida, Estes Park, and TBEX had no choice but to evaporate in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristos and towering dunes.
Stay tuned to see if I can convey to you in some way why I find this place so captivating.