Trip Start Jul 17, 2012
Trip End Jul 31, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Friday, July 27, 2012

Scott and I spent the morning catching up on tour documentation, then headed from Alamosa out to Monte Vista to take a look at our hotel there, and sample lunch at Pachelli’s Deli & Bakery, where we plan to take the group. The hotel is on the outskirts of Monte Vista, and actually owns and runs a drive-in theater. The rooms, of course, have a Hollywood theme – mostly old classic shows and stars. Problem is that they shut down the theater for the season when school starts. So we are wrangling with them about firing up the projectors for part at least of the evening we’re there. We’ll see.

Back at Pachelli’s, we got a chance to see Fred in action. Fred is the owner, and works his culinary magic right out in the open where everyone can watch. Customers queue up at the cash register to order and Fred keeps up a non-stop banter with them. He seems to know everyone in town, and has an insight into what’s going on in every nook and cranny in the San Luis Valley. We picked up a lot about current scuttlebutt in Monte Vista just sitting in the café for an hour listening to him chatter with the locals. 

Fred is one of those gifted individuals who works better when he talks, and talk he does. I ordered the special, which was lasagna with a salad and roll. Scott ordered a chicken sandwich. Even though you order at the cash register, he’s hired a young lady to serve the food. She has a sweet, service-oriented disposition and it;s a unique model that seemed to work well.

The food was outstanding – one of the best lasagna’s I’ve ever had. So we headed out for the next part of the day full and happy!

Driving north, we were bound for Great Sand Dunes National Park. The sky had been threatening in the west all morning, and dark storm clouds continued to roll over the lush San Luis Valley. The huge flat expanse reminds me a lot of Eastern Washington, where my father-in-law has owned an alfalfa farm for decades. Flat and partitioned into neat rectangles, irrigated by massive metal “circles”, substantial quantities of potatoes are produced, along with a little of just about anything else that grows.

The clouds, however, were dropping bands of rain out ahead of us – falling from the clouds in narrow funnels, as if someone turned on a faucet here for a few minutes, then turned it off and moved to another location to bless another field with a downpour. We drove through a few of these deluges, and the rain came down HARD!. Off to the south, we saw more than one crackle of lightning split the sky.

Turning north, we finished our approach to the national park, the sand dunes ahead looking dark and despondent in the inclement weather. As we paid our admission to the park, the ranger cheerfully assessed the weather as “one of those 20% forecasts that gets you 100% wet!” 

At the visitor center, we powwowed with the rangers, trying to get a feel for out to experience this place without climbing the dunes – 700 feet above the valley floor at the highest. Uncharacteristically, the rangers didn’t offer great insights, and the trails seemed to be few and far between. We hoped for a trail that gained a bit of elevation on the valley wall, offering views over the dunes.

Scott and I set out on foot from the visitor center on one trail that offered potential. To our delight, we discovered that, not only did the trail wind invitingly along a stream through an aspen forest that would be ablaze when Scott brings the group back, but it branches out onto another trail the ranger did not offer us that perfectly parallels the dunes, providing spectacular panoramas. 

Still under gray and gloomy skies, we continued down a footpath to the base of the dunes – about 30 square miles of sand piled up like a massive mounds of meringue at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Early explorer John Fremont described the sand as “exactly that of the sea in a storm, except as to color, not the least sign of vegetation existing thereon.".

Our plan did NOT include hiking the dunes – we knew we did not have the time, or probably the energy, to do this with the group. But sometimes when you’re out on these scouting trips, the pull of a rare opportunity is irresistible. We looked at the sky, which hinted of brighter hours ahead, and followed the urge. 

Halfway up the dunes, sunbursts began breaking the canopy of clouds! We spent the next 3 hours drinking in amazing spectacles of sand and sun and shadows, light and clouds of all colors, against the backdrop of "fourteeners" in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We knew there was a price to pay, both in demands of the sand climb on our bodies, and in the delayed departure for our next hotel. It turned out to be worth it, and more. 

It’s hard to quantify the feelings one gets at times like these. They are rare!! The senses are heightened on the one hand, and saturated with stimuli on the other. The heart sings, in tune with an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime connection with creation. This was such a time! 
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Diane on

Glad you didn't let the opportunity escape you. :)

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