June 21, 2017

Daytrip to Mesa Verde

Our main destination for the trip was to go to Durango, Colorado. When I discovered that Durango was only an hour from Mesa Verde, I immediately planned an extra day on our trip! There is something truly fascinating about these ancient structures left behind that has always captivated me.

Mesa Verde did not disappoint!! Oh man, next time I want to spend a few days there. Maybe camp in the park. Maybe even buy a motorcycle. Kidding! One day, but not yet. I guess what was left in my dusty files about this place was that they climbed up to the top, but they actually climbed DOWN. Really resourceful and creative people. There's about a 20 mile beautiful drive up to the top, complete with switchbacks and a tunnel. The entire drive is breathtaking!

We took the Cliff Palace tour. What you need to know going to Mesa Verde is that there are three tours to chose from. One was two hours and booked up for the day. The other one hour tour is the most adventurous one, which we will take another time (Nick was still recovering from back issues on this trip). Cliff Palace was the perfect Mesa Verde Tour for a young family.

The boys did well! I loved the ranger that we had - she asked the junior rangers to raise their hands (which happened to be just our boys even though there were some older kids there). They were then given the job to help distinguish between rocks and walls, and to help people stay off the walls. So sweet! Ranger Ryan, of course, probably needed that guidance specifically for him. The tour was a perfect length for little kids and big kids.

There were some tight climbing spots, both going up and down. It was a little steep in spots, but the nice thing about it was that it was manageable for everyone, including our four year old!

The rest of the time we spent just driving around and hopping out at overlooks. Cliff dwellings and spectacular views all around. Just. Amazing.

While driving along the top we saw signs for Indian Fry Bread. Following the signs takes you into Ute Mountain Reservation, and the fry bread is amazing! There was a wide selection of toppings, and we opted for powdered sugar, cinnamon, and honey. This 5 minute detour is worth it. YUM!

We spent the majority of the day here, wishing we could stay longer, but were still able to make it back to our campsite in Durango for dinner. I think this was my favorite part of our entire trip.

This quote from the welcome center perfectly sums it up:

"The sky overhead, 
the earth below, 
the mountains around, 
I stand in the middle place - at home."
- Dr. Rina Swentzell, Santa Clara Pueblo

Have you been to Mesa Verde? What are some of your favorites memories?

* * *

If you want to see more from our summer road trip, check out these posts:

Great Sand Dunes
Caprock Canyon
Our Youtube channel

June 15, 2017

First Time visiting Colorado Great Sand Dunes

This was my first experience with Colorado, and how wonderful it was! Our campsite was just 30 minutes away from the entrance to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and we planned to spend the day there. After breakfast we packed lunch and our bathing suites then headed for the dunes!

We stopped by the welcome center to get the boys their junior ranger packet. They have a nice hands-on center that is very kid-friendly with a great view of the Dunes! The boys wanted to hike to the top FROM THE WELCOME CENTER because there was a path. Crazy kids. Somehow we managed to convince them to go back the the truck. We drove to a parking lot much closer to the dunes and creek.

Just so you know, even if all you want to do is hike the dunes, you must FIRST walk through the creek! It's not deep at all, but your knees and below are going to get wet. We got all ready, came to this point, then went back and changed into our bathing suites.

The Sand Dunes are deceiving at how far away and how tall they are! It felt like forever until we reached the first little sand dune. We thought we were so smart bringing a sled, too! Well guess what? They don't exactly work on sand. There are special wood boards that you can rent at the welcome center. If you wax them well, then yes, it will work. We saw other people with these boards. They could make it all the way down the dune, whereas we would make it about 10 feet then have to scoot it down. It was still fun, just not as epic.

Here's a view of the creek from the "top" of our little dune.

After several attempts of sledding and just having fun running down the dune, we chose to go back to the creek and play. The creek is AMAZING!! It is not very deep at all, with probably the deepest part going to my knee. This makes it very kid, especially toddler, friendly.

It was weird, too, because it was like there were gentle little waves just like at a beach. When we went back to the welcome center and watched the video, we learned that there are antidunes that build up, then burst creating a surge flow. So cool! Such a unique and rare ecosystem.

I love how much room there was for all the crowds. Even though there were tons of people everywhere (and an overflowing parking lot - so glad we got there early) there was plenty of room for everyone to play. 

After eating lunch, playing some more (and getting our sunburn) we needed some downtime. It looked like a rain cloud was getting ready to come over to the dunes. We went back the our tent for a little while. 

In the evening we headed back towards the dunes to hike to Zapata Falls.

Well, we never made it to the falls because you have to cross the stream and follow a path OR walk up the stream through a cave to see it. So cool, right? Yeah! As we approached the water, it was a pretty strong current. We would have to carry the boys across. And the water was arctic cold. Not to mention, we couldn't get a clear view of any valid paths on the other side, and I wasn't going to freeze just to find out if it was the way or not. Zachary was very disappointed. Next time we may need to come later in the summer (or have a personal guide at that point!).

Well, I was going to post a photo of the water, but I never took a picture! You'll just have to checkout the youtube video. ;-)

The hike was still worth it! It smelt so freshly of pine and the cold water mist! Too bad photos can't be scratch and sniff. I think the next few photos really savored the some of the beauty.

It just gets even better with a nice drive and a beautiful sunset.

Have you been to the Sand Dunes? Have any tips for the Zapata waterfall?

To see where we camped outside of the Sand Dunes, check out this post.
Check out our first stop at Caprock Canyon.

June 13, 2017

Best Camping Outside of Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Something very important you should know if you ever decide to do a spontaneous or last minute trip to the Colorado Sand Dunes: The national park camp sites fill up quickly! There is a lodge right outside the park, but you guessed it. Also full. After seeing that it was full on any day about the time we wanted to go (tried looking about a month ahead), I almost pulled the plug on this stop. But then I looked at campsites nearby and came across Base Camp Family Campground.

It is only 27 minutes away from the Sand Dunes, right smack between the nearest town of Alamosa and the park entrance. The other campsites were more RV centered and closer to town, so this seemed like a good fit.

Cool thing about this site is it was brand new. Apparently the week we went was the first week it was open! The owner lives on site, and his granddaughter happened to be there helping out too. If you want family friendly place, this is it. They were still under some construction at the bath and laundry building, but it was completely functional. (I also have fond memories of construction growing up, so I really don't mind). They even gave us complimentary firewood while they were still completing things!

Not gonna lie, I had some camping-culture-shock when we pulled up. I didn't exactly know what to expect, but it was different than my expectations. Not bad, just different. Growing up on the East Coast there were always trees when camping. Even camping in Oklahoma and Texas there are trees, though much shorter.

We pulled up and there were no trees.

And there was no dirt. There was sand.

I've never camped on sand before, and no trees made me feel really exposed. As I adjusted my expectations to the reality, it was amazing. No trees means that there were 360 degrees of unobstructed views (except for any clouds) of the mountains. It was absolutely beautiful every direction you look. The boys also absolutely LOVED the sand - drawing pictures, playing in it, you name it.

As cool as it may have been to stay in the park itself, I am so grateful that we got to stay here. We were the only tenting family the first night. The second night, two or three more families showed up. One family had a ton of kids (might have even been two groups camping together), and they along with our boys played games all up and down the sandy road until it was time for bed. It was so nice to not only hear them playing, but to hear the oldest of them all look out for the kids and help set up the game so everyone had turns and everyone had fun.

The spot only gets 7 inches of rain a year, and we happened to get some rain both nights we were there. You can tell in the next picture with the sand being a little wet at sunrise. We did get to see some stars one night! There is no doubt that on a clear night you would truly have unlimited views for star gazing. (And I was mad at myself for forgetting my tripod! Would have been perfect for nighttime pictures!)

One final note for those considering camping here. You can hear the highway (one lane both ways) from the site. It is not that big of a deal because there is not a lot of traffic and it is a little bit off. But you do hear it. I almost wonder if you would hear it where ever you were on the plains just because of the vast openness.

If you plan last minute and end up staying here, I promise you will not be disappointed! It felt like home away from home for us.

Missed out on the first part of our trip? Check out our stay at Caprock Canyons.

Subscribe to stay tuned for more of our adventure!

* * *
This post is NOT sponsored, just an honest review of our stay at Basecamp Family Campgrounds.