A Travellerspoint blog

Great Sand Dunes National Park

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I decide to backtrack a little and head south to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s the perfect day for a hike - cool and sunny - so I follow groups of other tourists in the climb to the highest sand dune. What at first appeared to be a short distance turns into a long and challenging climb. Every step you take the sand shifts under your feet and brings you back half a step. The best motivator is the hot sand burning my feet and keeping me moving even when I‘m tired. I feel like David Carradine in the opening of Kung Fu: wandering the desert barefoot. Although it’s less Zen than he made it look.

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Finally I reach the very top. It feels great and the panoramic views are worth the effort. Where else are such monumental sand dunes positioned at the base of alpine peaks. Another group who have made it to the top summersault, jump and even ski down the sand dune’s edge. It’s always easier hiking back down, and the sand works the same as it did on the ascent, dragging me down the hill.

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In order to get back heading north, I take a dirt road known as Phantom Canyon. The road is well maintained, which is surprising considering that every Coloradan is required by law to own a Subaru or Jeep in order to make it down snowy and/or muddy roads. Phantom Canyon meanders around red rock cliffs, over wooden plank bridges and through a couple of really cool tunnels dug into the hills.

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Back on paved road, I continue north on highway 67 and as I reach the top of a hill I noticed a bunch of cars pulled off to the side. At first I thought they were just stopped for the view or something, but then I looked across the road. Perched atop this hill in a National Forest was a castle. Bishop Castle. Built by one crazy guy who lives in a shack next to the huge stone palace he’s been building for the past 40 years. Tourists stop and walk up the four stories on scary wrought-iron spiral staircases, stopping along the way to explore the rooms on each floor. It's dark and lacking in handrails. Sometimes the mesh flooring shifts under your feet. But that's all part of the fun.

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Posted by Velora 20:40 Comments (0)

Colorado Springs and Salida

It’s only coming from the flat prairies of the east that you can fully appreciate the rocky mountains when they come into view. The jagged heights the snowy mountains reach just seem so amazing in contrast to the flat dry chaparral that surrounds them. It’s awesome.

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Just outside Colorado Springs is a place called Garden of the Gods. Giant red rocks are set out in the plains, rising up out of the dusty ground. It’s even more dynamic with the snow covered mountains in the background. It’s so close to the city center that people come here to walk their dogs and take their morning jogs. What an otherworldly landscape for such mundane activities.

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From Colorado Springs I head west to take a scenic loop around the mountains. I stop at Florissant State Park and find petrified giant redwood stumps left behind after a volcanic blast millions of years ago preserved the bottom portions of the majestic forest. Prehistoric insects and plants are also preserved in fossilized layers of shale available for viewing at the visitors center.

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I continue on and find myself in Salida, a unique small town at the base of the rocky mountains. For a town of less than 6,000 Salida has an active historic downtown with a wide variety of eclectic shops and restaurants.

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During my second day there I drive up the mountain to a hiking trail. At first my boots only sink a couple inches into the frozen snow that remains on the trail, but the higher I climb the deeper and slushier the snow becomes. When I occasionally start sinking down into the snow up to my knees I decide it’s time to turn around. To warm up, I head to Mount Princeton Hot Springs. In addition to two pools filled with the spring waters, a diverted pipe brings the hot waters into a rocky stream where piled rocks create small Jacuzzi-like pools that are surprisingly comfortable. I lie back and gaze up at the beautiful mountain scenery while the warm sun shines on me.

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Posted by Velora 18:23 Comments (0)

Kansas

After a long hiatus from the road I’m shocked to find that while I’ve been hibernating, Spring has started to reveal itself. And Kansas seems to be a great place to take all of it in. The ground is spongy and the air is sticky. No wonder it’s such an agricultural state: it’s like one big flat greenhouse.

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In Kansas City I stop in the area of town with art museums and shopping and parks. It’s a nice place to walk around on a warm sunny day. The lawn surrounding the art museum showcases a sculpture garden, but the only ones that seem to matter are the huge badminton shuttlecocks that appear to have been left by giants in the middle of a game.

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I take a detour to a little town called Wamego to visit the OZ museum. For such a small town, it had a pretty neat collection of items related to both the books and all the movie and theater incarnations of the story. I’m not sure if there were many one-of-a-kind unique items: it was more like a very specific antique store. But it was neat to see everything all together.

The warm weather meant I was camping again, and it appears I’m the only one. Only a couple people stop by to fish in the lakes where State Parks in Kansas seem to be required to be, but nobody stays for camping this time of year. But, I think I found out why. The other night I was reading outside as the sun went down and it was getting cooler and then all of a sudden a gush of warm air came in from the opposite direction. And then it started to get windy. SUPER WINDY. I’ve never in my life ever experienced such extreme windiness. I was determined to camp though - to save money - so I put my heavy suitcases in the tent and barricaded myself in. I kept thinking, what if a tornado comes through? How would I know? I kept peeking through the tent to see if I could see one. I tried to sleep, but all the while my tent is flapping in the wind - like a loose sail on a sailboat. So, finally I told myself… I’ve got to leave. It was midnight. I gathered some stuff up and stepped outside. It was crazy. There were tree branches all over the lawns and the wind nearly knocked me over. I finally stuffed everything into the car and drove away to find shelter in a hotel.

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The winds continued for the next couple days, pushing against my car on the highway and enticing tumbleweeds to run desperatly across the road. It seemed fitting: to experience such high winds in Kansas. And it's not like you'd expect it from such a seemingly peaceful landscape.

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Posted by Velora 08:55 Comments (0)

Soundtrack

It seems a real shame that I haven’t posted in so long. What I’d originally planned as a one week visit to my sister’s turned into a seven week stay. Who knows how this kind of thing happens, but I’m sure it had a lot to do with this guy (my nephew):

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So if there is anyone out there still checking this blog, please know that I’m back on the road and will be posting regularly again.

As a kind of thanks for sticking with me, I’ve put together a soundtrack inspired by this trip. Please follow the link below. Hope you like it!

http://www.playlist.com/playlist/19393741067/standalone

Posted by Velora 08:48 Comments (2)

Arkansas

I didn’t have great expectations of finding much of interest in Arkansas, but I was pleasantly surprised by the town of Hot Springs. In the 1800’s the town flourished under the influx of tourists looking to rejuvenate themselves in the naturally steaming mineral waters the city is named for. People came believing that the waters cured illness and ailments and stayed at the posh hotel-bathhouses lining the main street. Today one of the main bathhouses is a National Park - a free national park. The four story building has been restored to pristine condition and showcases the many stages of a typical Victorian era visit to the hot springs.

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Part day spa and part medical facility, the bathhouse still has all the accessories and strange medical devices that were used during its heyday. It feels as though at any moment the place could be filled with the patrons from the past in their towels and bathrobes.

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On the hillside the city is built into, you can see the steaming water gurgling up from natural pools and piped fountains. They even have a gazebo with multiple spigots in the visitor center parking lot, allowing people to take gallons of the water home with them.

On the same block as the National Park Building there are a handful of bathhouses still open and operating for tourists. It’s a cold and windy day and after dipping my hands in the hot waters of the waterfall in the park, I resolve that I will spend the $20 to take a bath. Why not? But as soon as I select a bathhouse and walk to the door, I see a note that they closed early today in observation of President’s Day. President’s Day? Nothing else was closed in the town. Grrr…

The next day I drive through the Ozarks. This time of year isn’t the best time to view the mountains and trees, but the sky is dynamic and dramatic and I end up tilting my camera toward the sky most of the time.

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I stopped for the night in a tiny town called Jasper. Although there was little to do, that was part of its charm. The first hotel I stopped at the owner told me she hadn’t warmed up enough rooms and suggested I head up the street to the next hotel instead of sticking me in a room that would take a couple hours to warm up. How sweet. In the morning I walk across the street to Ozark Café and eat a cheap breakfast amongst scruffy locals who appear to have lived in this town their whole lives. It reminds me of the town in Northern Exposure, except there aren’t any quirky young people. Hum… maybe if I moved there…

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Posted by Velora 19:44 Comments (0)

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