Colorado – The Great Outdoors

San Luis National Forest, Colorado

We drove out into the San Luis National Forest to begin our camping trip: Michelle and myself, three children and three dogs.

Driving through this incredible forest, we saw deer, chipmunks and a moose and numerous other small animals. Michelle had never seen a moose in the wild and we were all very excited, especially as it ran through a field and jumped a fence. Driving through the mountains looking for a place to camp we saw a storm rolling in but it hit us with a deluge just as we nearing a good site. The rain was so heavy we couldn’t see the road so we stopped and waited. Ten minutes later we drove onwards to a potential spot. That spot was no good as the downpour had turned the area to mud and there was nowhere we could pitch. We drove to a nearby town for dinner as there would be no chance of us building a fire. The restaurant offered two Bigfoot food challenges, one for breakfast and another for dinner. The breakfast challenge involved eating a stack of pancakes, each one the size of a dinner plate and over a centimetre thick. I don’t think I could even have eaten one let alone a stack of them. The other challenge was a burger with a kilogram of meat topped with a heap of bacon and cheese. I barely finished a single burger.

Camping in ColoradoAfter dinner we drove down a road heading east through the valley looking for a place to camp. The rain had stopped and there were no longer pools of water everywhere. As the sun was dipping low we found a small clearing next to the river. We played UNO and talked for a while before sleeping.

In the morning I walked up the adjacent hill with the kids in tow before we returned to break down the camp and move on. We drove west into the mountains and deeper into the park, on mountain ridges and through valleys deep and broad, the view absolutely stunning. This area is incredible to admire and enjoy, tree covered mountains, grassed valley floors, the rich red of iron in stone on a cliff face, a small river weaving its way, tripping over rocks and fallen trees searching for a lake or ocean to fill. For anyone who enjoys the outdoors this place is lovely. There are very few people out here, the towns are small and the tourism is low, so it is not hard to enjoy.

La Garita Natural Arch,  Penitente Canyon, Colorado


We were looking for an old gold town in the area where we would spend the day but missed the turnoff in the mountains and instead drove through a ghost town before heading into another wood to pitch camp. The clouds were building again but this time we made it to our camp and setup well before the rains hit. We also managed to find enough dry wood to build a campfire to cook our dinner.

The kids and I took a walk around the forest before dinner and the following day we all walked together on the road further into the forest. Colorado is a truly beautiful place to visit, and being here you can understand why they are so proud of it.

Not far from Del Norte on the western side of the San Luis Valley is Penitente Canyon which features the beautiful lone La Garita natural arch, but as my friend kept telling me “If you’ve been to Utah, you won’t be impressed”. I liked it, simple and majestic on an isolated ridge, the arch was like a telescope lens aimed at the broad plains beyond.

View from la garita Natural Arch, Penitente Canyon, Colorado

To top off the physically beautiful reasons to visit the region, you should visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Originally established as a monument in 1932 the area was renamed in 2004. The dunes are very impressive and with the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains as the backdrop is even more so. Walking on these dunes is great and very deceptive. Nowhere is as close as you think it is, and it probably not possible to reach it by a singular path. As you walk on the dunes you will notice the wind is always apparent, increasing in strength as you climb higher, sand dancing across the crests. The highest dune is approximately 230m and the dunefield covers over 7000 hectares of the 18000 hectare park. The park is more than just the sand dunes and has a range of camping and hiking options.

Wild About Bears Talk, Great Sand Dunes National Park Rangers Station, ColoradoThe day I visited there were some talks by the Rangers. The first was “Wild about Bears”, an informative talk about Black Bears. During the talk the ranger passed around a few items including a bear skull for us to hold.

Another was “Who Dunnit?” an interactive educational game about the history of the dunes from formation to the modern day. This was a great talk as they included props such as sand and a magnifying lens, historical dialogues, and photographs, engaging the entire group.

The formation of these dunes has numerous theories and depending on which text you read the age is anywhere from 5000 to 440000 years. What is known is that a combination of wind and water erodes the surrounding valley and mountains. Winds pick up the sand and deposit in this area. When you look at the sands under a microscope or magnifying lens, they are quite brilliant and colourful, and when investigated further shows that the sands are made up of materials from across the valley and surrounding ranges. The sand also contains black magnetite which can play havoc with compasses at some areas of the dunes. When the ranger spoke of this area at “Who Dunnt?” she also mentioned that formation was reliant upon an uplift to form the Sange de Cristi range and volcanic activity to form the San Juan, as well as the La Garita Super Volcano.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

The dunes are important to the local indigenous populations; the Utes called them “sowapophe-uvehe” (the land that moves back and forth) and the Apaches “issei-nanyedi” ("it goes up and down.) Indigenous American groups are the only people currently allowed to remove material from the dunes.

In the evening the park offered a Raptor show thanks to the Nature and Raptor Centre of Pueblo, where they talked about and showed us a a Golden Eagle, a Great Horned Owl, a Swainson’s Hawk. The organisation provides education about and rehabilitation for birds of prey.

Golden Eagle from Nature and Raptor Centre, Pueblo, ColoradoGreat Horned Owl  from Nature and Raptor Centre, Pueblo, Colorado

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