With the sun rising over the mountains on one side and the open horizon on the other, I drove away from Durango, my brother, and the comfort of knowability to begin my first day totally alone on the road. It is never easy saying goodbye to the ones you love, even if it is just temporary. I have loved getting to explore the city my brother now calls home with him and meet some really amazing people that he has in his life. I really feel that a part of my heart belongs to Colorado and my brother is a huge part of that feeling. So I drove away in the dark, the first light of sunrise peeking through the rugged mountain tops, knowing that I was leaving a piece of my heart behind me.
But the road is open, the way is long, and I have many miles to travel before I find more places to leave pieces of my heart in as I move forward.
The end destination for the day, Boulder, Colorado. Another Colorado city that has a lot of meaning to my family; it is where my parents met and fell in love after adventuring and working together for some time. I have visited Boulder once in the past but for a very brief time, so needless to say I am excited to get to dig deeper into what Boulder has to offer. But first, the nine hours of driving in between Durango and Boulder that I completed by myself today.
To leave Durango you have to go over Wolf Creek Pass, a mountain range that climbs steadily to heights of even thinner air than Durango (which was hard enough on my wimpy sea level conditioned lungs). The colors were spectacular and the river that followed along the road after the summit was wondrously beautiful.
I took about a two hour detour to visit a National Park that I made the mistake of skipping once many years ago and refused to make the same mistake twice. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a natural wonderland of sand, mountains, and colorful trees. I can never pass by a national park, even if it is quite far out of my way. So Mama the Llama and I settled in for a long drive and went to check out the park that lays claim to the highest sand dunes in North America.
Before we hit the dunes though, we went and explored a small side trail that wove uphill through colorful aspens and alongside a fast moving creek. It was quite a nice spot even though it had nothing to do with the sand dunes that give the park its name.
I hiked out from the main parking lot across trickling remants of a river and a wide expanse of flat sand to reach the base of the dunes. I must have been quite a sight to the other people out there who were decked out with walking sticks and proper hiking gear, while I was walking bare foot and in a dress. One man asked me where my high heels were as I climbed up the side of a gigantic sand dune.
But I didn’t mind, I was out there, I was doing it, and that was all that mattered to me. Deserts have always struck me strangely since I am not a terribly big fan of the sun or anything hot in particular, yet I have always deeply enjoyed going to desert parks. Death Valley is one of my all time favorite National Parks and here again, I found myself loving the desert sands of this entirely new national park.
I hiked to a vantage point on a ridge of one particularly long sand dune and sat down to eat my lunch. This didn’t go as perfectly as I had imagined it as I was working my way up the ridge because I was being sand blasted the entire time. I think I ate more sand than I did sandwich. But it was a magnificent view and to watch the sand shifting under the powerful winds right before my eyes was awe inspiring. The way that the sand blows in high flying eddies feels like the entire world is vibrating and moving with exuberant life. I always have to bury my feet in the sand when I watch the world move beneath my feet because when they are buried you can feel your own pulse in your feet, but it feels like the heartbeat of the Earth beating in tune with your own.
Mama had a bit of a hard time at the park and actually took quite a tumble down a sand dune because the wind was so incredibly strong that she couldn’t stay grounded even with her feet entirely buried in the sand.
Covered in sand, we both returned down the dunes as the wind whirled around in pirouettes. On the way down some very nice women actually let me borrow a sled to slide down one of the sand dunes, which was wonderfully exhilarating except for the tumble I took at the end. But still, it made me laugh and it made me feel alive. I waved my goodbye to the friendly group of women and Mama, PriPri and I left the Great Sand Dunes National Park receding in the rearview mirror.
The rest of the drive was a confusing mixture of flat nothing and bounding mountain passes covered in colorful trees . There was such an amazing array of autumn colors that I kept stopping all the time to take pictures because I was so awe-struck after rounding every corner by the new landscape that lay before me.
I even did some off roading down a National Forest side road that provided some amazing aspen forest views.
No matter where I went, it was breathtakingly beautiful. I have never in my life seen sights like these and I cannot believe I am lucky enough to be able to take my time driving through all of it so I can soak it all in on my own time and at my own pace.
The most beautiful array of fall colors was at an overlook by Kenosha Pass. The entire mountainside was covered in a kaleidoscope of colors, like a chameleon caught between hues, the trees were somewhere between deep orange reds and fleeting green that could be completely gone tomorrow.
After the astonishing natural beauty of this day of driving, I also have to throw in some kitschy weird things too; namely, a weird Coney Island hot dog stand that is shaped like a giant hot dog. Yeah, there are some pretty random and strange things to see out on the open road…
Finally I cleared all of the mountains and descended into Denver. I didn’t stop in Denver proper, but I did take a quick trip to the Red Rock Amphitheater.
After many a stop light and countless rush hour traffic jams, I made it to my hostel in Boulder where I am currently crashing and burning because I am so exhausted. It will be interesting to meet my roommates and see what sort of people they are, but I already like the hostel complex, which comes complete with a slack line yard that I am dying to try out and a wonderful river running directly through the complex. I can’t wait to see it in day light.
Most importantly (at least to me), I did it. I made it. I completed my first solo day with no great tragedies, no misadventures, scary happenings. I was fine. If I can do one day I can do many more. This was almost like a trail for myself, I needed to prove to myself that I could actually do this, not just talk about doing it, but actually succeed in doing it. And here I am, all in one piece, a little tired, but ready for more adventure tomorrow. I cannot wait to see what adventure the newly risen sun will bring with it tomorrow.