|The drive south|
Just from looking at the map and planning a route based on the little dotted lines indicating scenic roads, we turned off the interstate heading south. Again, having no real expectations other than that we were to be journeying through the mountains, we were absolutely taken to another level of beauty and driving bliss. We were quickly winding up through a narrow mudstone canyon then popping out high up into the Grand Mesa National Forest. High alpine lakes hanging to the side of the pine covered tops, it really doesn't get much more spectacular. We made a few stops to sit and look, but there was just too many beautiful lookout spots, so we were happy to watch it all pass us as we wound up over and back down. We made our way through what is called the 'Western Slope', a dry high plains area, with pockets of small towns and groves of fruit trees and the sort. Ducking off onto a smaller road heading past the famous Telluride Ski Resort, we were passing across the Western edge of the Rio Grande National Forest, where the peaks grew towering high and ominously jagged.
|The sunset at Mesa Verde|
|The Cliff Palace|
What American National Parks do best is make these special places accessible to all. So we spent the morning driving about convenient roads with a car park right by each area of interest. We started to feel dizzy getting in and out for the car so often, but we did see a lot. A beautiful dry environment, and a plateau carved with endless gorges, canyons and gullies. A place seemingly uninhabitable, however for a many hundred years around 800AD the Pueblo people called this place home, moving from above ground dwelling to wedging very intricate settlements of living and worship spaces into narrow shelves under on hanging cliffs. Settlements of 400 plus rooms, living quarters and kivas, linked with ladders and steps. Seen as an adaption for protection from attack and the elements, however at a certain point they just up and left. During the peak season you can take guided walks through a few dwellings, but we were happy to peer from across the way, appreciating the scale and space these people once lived amongst.
|Amy feeling small amongst the dunes|
Another early morning adventure out into the dune field, we had free range of the terrain, no paths or trails to follow. Just follow others footprints or make your own. We headed for the less direct route to the top of Star Dune, the highest point in the park. From the top, the view was inspiring, and the idea of leaping down the steep slope was too good to turn down. With each leap and bound my feet would heave deep into the sand slope producing a somewhat unsettling sound like I was creating a large sand avalanche, none happened however. Shoes filled with sand did though. We traversed out along the dunes, sat and enjoyed the warmth, tranquility and the loneliness of being out ahead of the light autumn crowds. We made our way back and across the river that simply just runs and disappears into the sand.
|Feeling small amongst the Rockies|
Continuing on our way back home to Breckenridge, we headed directly north towards Buena Vista through some less spectacular scenery, however still gorgeous wide open valleys with high, daunting mountains to the side. Very reminiscent of the Cass Range in New Zealand, making me feel very content. We made our way into Park County, the home of the cartoon Series South Park, and over Hosier pass and back to our home of Summit County. Just a quick trip away, that turned out to be a real welcome to the Wild West.
|Great Sand Dunes|