The Great American Road Trip II - 24 - Mr. Sandman
We had a hard time getting to sleep last night, due in equal parts to excitement, over-tiredness, and altitude. After route planning for a bit, we eventually dozed off.
I awoke at 6:30 and got my dad up - my mom had already awoken and was getting some things out of the car. We ended up leaving the hotel a little before 8:00 bound for the Great Sand Dunes.
The roads there - especially Colorado 150, which leads to the park entrance - are ridiculously straight, continuing in the ancient lake bed valley where Alamosa lies. It was so flat that we could see the city in the distance, a good 20 miles away.
I was expecting something like the White Sands of last year, but the Great Sand Dunes are unlike anything else. They seemed small from a distance, but we were a good four miles away from them. The curving peaks and solidified-wave formations of the dunes look like they jut up against the mountains behind, but they were not, as they instead jut out for miles ahead of them. While we could, at one point, see the entirety of the dunes, that was not due to their smallness but rather due to our extreme distance from them.
We then officially entered the park and stopped at the visitor center, where they have a small interactive diorama with sand in it, and turning a handle changes the direction of the wind inside and you can sort of shape the mini-dune by wind direction. (It was probably intended for kids but we had great fun watching it do its thing.)
We continued the route to the dunes and passed two very dark mule deer. At 8:55 we parked in the parking lot, which did not have very many people in it - definitely less than we had anticipated, as it's a cooler environment in the morning.
Since I came in with White Sands experience, I expected something almost completely different from what we got - mainly the distance from our car to the first dune, which is a mile-long hike that feels like so much longer. It also crosses Medano Creek, which we had to ford sans footwear. The sand is not of consistent texture either, ranging from soft, mushy beach-like sand that sucks at your feet until you sink six inches down to bits of rocky clumps that dig into your feet. Most of the walk to and from the dunes were on the latter, and most of the dunes were of the former.
After fording Medano Creek we kept trudging for what felt like the better half of forever. The 7,515-foot elevation got to us before we even got to the dunes. We went up and sledded down the first dune, which due to its small grade was unimpressive. We then spotted the next dune over, which we appropriately trudged up.
I don't know how far down the hill was, but it was long and steep - perhaps 120 feet at the very least. We waxed up our sleds and proceeded to careen down the hill at breakneck speed.
Of course, the way the boards are designed, it's incredibly hard to get any sort of balance, stability, or control. Any attempts at controlling the direction of the board led to immediate wipeout - first by my dad, who did a faceplant into some (thankfully cold) sand, and then by me, as my board got wobbly and stopped suddenly when one side dug into the sand. I didn't do nearly as good of a wipeout as dad; he got an enormous amount of sand out of his nose and ears, whereas I only had an enormous amount of sand in one ear.
We sucked on our large water bottles and rested a good bit, as the sand dunes are incredibly hard to walk up. The kind of sand that the dunes are made of is very soft and you only stop when you get to a wetter kind of sand a few inches down, which - combined with the over-7,500-foot elevation - makes going fast hard. It's a good workout, though, and the slides down the dunes were totally worth the effort.
(As far as dune slides go, my dad had the worst wipeout and the longest run while my mom nabbed the straightest run - and on her first go, at that. I had a hard time getting balance as my sled kept wobbling around, but my wipeouts were about as fun as my slides.)
By 10:00 we'd done all we felt up to on the Dunes and trudged back to the car, interrupted by a number of breaks for water sipping. We got back to the car at 10:38 and rolled back out of the park. (Good thing, too - the sand was not only getting hot on our bare feet, but the crowds were starting to come in. The measly-looking Medano Creek apparently is the local answer to the beach, and folks came in with beach clothes and equipment - very few sleds, however.)
After dropping off our boards at the sports equipment place, we got back to the hotel where I surveyed the insane amount of sand on my body. Sand stuck to my sunscreen-sticky arms and plastered my face, ears, nose, and hair - even though I wore a hat the whole time. Sand was all over my chest and lodged itself around my mouth and in my facial hair, which made it look incredibly dark. Getting a shower was an interesting proposition, as the sand and old sunscreen turned the water into a kind of slush and I was afraid of being responsible for a backup should I wash it all away at once.
After we all got cleaned up as thoroughly as we could, we moved our Santa Fe reservations up a day and began the drive down to New Mexico. We passed by silos which featured murals on their sides and the oldest church in Colorado before it began raining in hard drops - hard enough that the smell of petrichor was thick, even inside the car. Concerned about the possibility of hail, we got out of the storm and continued south, where we entered New Mexico. (That makes it the second time this trip, if you count Four Corners.)
The rain made the temperature plummet from 73 to 51, but it increased to 65 as soon as we got out of it. New Mexico is distinct due to some "half-and-half" landscapes we saw - green rolling hills interrupted by scrubby, arid pastureland. It seemed too organic to have been irrigated to look that way, and we pondered the origin of such a strange landscape before we saw the half-dried creek in the valley. We saw yellow blooming sagebrush as well as random rock formations akin to tan versions of some of the Arches scenery, but these were rather few and far between.
(It was here that my dad had the following dialogue with himself, all spoken slowly in an accent of indeterminate origin: "I'm from New Mexico." / "What do you do in New Mexico?" / "I chase a little beaver around a tree." This had us laughing inordinately hard.)
We began entering the more populated area around Santa Fe and found ourselves in the city, where we entered road construction. This usually would not be so bad, but the knocking we'd felt in the engine for the past few states finally came to a head - my dad reported that he "felt something pop" and the engine light came on. We got diagnostics run while on the go and were told via the OnStar guy that there was a misfire in the engine - which would account for the knocking. The guy advised against speed, hauling things, hard accelerations, and steep hills - all things that our car has done pretty consistently on the trip.
Add the fact that we had experienced this in road construction - and the New Mexico drivers were letting in morons who sped past the lane-closure warning signs, thus slowing the pack down - made it kind of scary. We got connected by phone to the dealership, but the call got dropped before we could say much of anything.
The engine didn't sound any worse than it had in the previous thousand miles, but we arrived at the Santa Fe dealership. My dad stayed in the repair area to check the car in while my mom and I went into the dealership to see about the possibility of a rental car or shuttle. We ended up talking to a receptionist whose mother is from Greensboro, NC - yet another NC connection. (It was also her first day on the job and didn't know her coworkers' names very well, which led to some hilarity when "Kevin" turned out to be called "Keith." This "Keith" character ended up saying "you ladies" when referring to my mom and me, which led to even more hilarity. He was ridiculously apologetic for his slip-up after he realized what had happened.)
We ended up getting to know the dealership characters, who were quite the bunch. With nothing else to do and a co-manager bent on trading our car in, we looked at a few new cars, which were surprisingly nice - better than our current ride in some aspects, while inferior in others. We ended up meeting two fellows named "David" who worked there - one of which had a practically trademarked catchphrase I can't repeat on this site, while the other was even newer than the receptionist, but played up on the humor in his newness by saying things such as "a walk-around is car-salesman talk for when ... you walk around."
As it turned out, the third cylinder had misfired, but everyone there was incredibly friendly and promised that, if possible, they'll have it done by noon tomorrow. If the engine turns out to have more extensive damage, we might just have a new ride for the journey home.
Instead of a rental car or a shuttle, they actually let us use one of the sexy-looking cars we tested out, which was incredibly nice of them. I actually drove it a bit around the hotel parking lot, and it handles quite well.
We ate at a mexican restaurant just a short walk from the hotel called the Blue Corn, which was half-brewery, half-restaurant. I had a huge chimichanga with some interesting limeade, while my parents got fajitas. (When the server asked me what kind of sauce I wanted, I remembered something the receptionist had said about "christmas" - half red chili, half green chili. I ordered this and I'm glad I did, as the green chili was delicious but the red chili less so.)
When we got back to the hotel, we decided to stay an extra day in Santa Fe. We were able to extend our reservations and got some drinks from the small pantry area near the front desk. We also were interested in sampling the pecan pie that we'd gotten at Serious Texas Barbecue in Durango, Colorado and had been lugging around in the cooler for three days, so we inquired about acquiring some forks. We were told that they would be delivered to our room, which thereby put ourselves in the unique position of having the first-ever hotel fork delivery. We prepared for this moment by having my dad open up the door before the front desk lady was prepared for that to happen and by my act of taking a picture just as her eyes got big as my dad presented the pecan pie to her to prove that it actually existed. It was quite hilarious.
Tomorrow: we spend a day in Santa Fe. Featuring an independent minor-league team and a number of delicious restaurants (the dealership receptionist said that you "really couldn't go wrong" with Santa Fe food), our extra day in the US's oldest capital will not go to waste.