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.
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.
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.
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.