New Mexico & Great Sand Dunes National Park
Before I left Oklahoma City, I needed to get my oil changed. The local Wal Mart began their automotive services at 7am, but there was already a line when I arrived and the customers told me that it always took a long time to get service. Instead I got some breakfast at a Panera, wrote the prior blog post, and then found another oil change company that opened at 8am.
It was an uneventful 6 hour drive to Clayton Lake State Park in New Mexico, though I did pass through Texas and was able to take a picture by the 'Welcome to Texas' sign. Clayton Lake is in the middle of
ranch-land near the town of Clayton. It was against the rules to fly my drone in the park, but I was able to fly it around the surrounding prairie and get some amazing footage of deer running through the fields.
Clayton Lake is a fairly small lake, but it has one cool claim to fame: dinosaur footprints. When the government was making a dam, they found dozens of dinosaur footprints from various species and they are right next to the lake which was really cool to see.
The parking spot at my campsite was on a hill, which would have meant that my tent would have been at an angle on top of my car, which would have made sleeping not very enjoyable. I spoke to a ranger and they let me move to an unused but flat piece of ground which made my sleep much more enjoyable. However, before I went to bed I did something I had been waiting to do for a week: re-organize the car. After being on the road for three weeks, I realized my original organization system was not the best. So I took everything out of the car: clothes, food, plastic drawers, batteries; and put them on a tarp on the ground. I then re-packed everything and made it much more organized. I also unpacked the new batteries I got from Amazon, and packaged up the old batteries that would not charge so I could return them. Once the car was re-packed, and the tent was set up on top of the car, the sun was setting at the park. I was able to take some great pictures of the sunset and went to bed.
The next morning I got up early started making my way to Great Sand Dunes National park. However, on the highway I saw signs for the Capulin Volcano national monument. I'd never seen a volcano, and it was only slightly off my path, so I decided to stop by. I took pictures at the sign before heading into the park, where I was informed by a ranger that the area was closed since roads were not in the best condition due to weather. He told me I could wait about three hours if I wanted to see the volcano, but I decided I needed to keep going to see the Great Sand Dunes.
I eventually got to Great Sand Dunes national park and stopped by the sign to take pictures and video. I was hungry, so before going into the park I had lunch in a diner. There I found out from a family that had just left the park that there was a 4 mile line of cars trying to enter. I realized that if I tried to enter, I would be stuck in my cars for hours, which is something that would have driven me crazy. So I decided that I would not visit the park that day, go into the nearby town of Alamosa and resupply on food, and then camp for the night. The plan was to get up early and see the park before the crowds, and then make my way to Aspen. However, I wanted to do something fun before I retired for the evening, so I visited the nearby Zapata Falls. Getting to the falls is either an hour plus hike up a rugged mountain, or if you car can take it, a 20 minute slow climb up a rocky road. I decided to drive up the mountain given how hot it was that day. There is a parking lot at the top of the mountain, and then you need to hike about 10 minutes to get to the falls. The falls are more like a stream when you first encounter them, and the water is icy cold. But I managed to take some pictures and video of the area and was glad I spent the time to see it.
That night was my first time staying at a HipCamp. HipCamp is a website similar to AirBnb, but it provides camping spots instead of rooms with beds. Often times these spots are on farmland or simply extra land in a forest, that people rent out to travelers like me. This time my HipCamp was about 15 minutes from the national park, in a desert type area. There was a fire-pit as well as a communal building with water, sink and outhouse. The accommodations were great and everything I needed. The only complaint is that it was really windy that evening and sand was blowing onto my things, but that is not something the location's owner can control. I also got some great drone footage of the desert and mountains before I went to bed.
That night temperatures got down to 40 degrees, and I was so thankful for my 10 degree rated sleeping bag, but I also needed a blanket inside to keep me warm. I tried to get up early at 6am, but it was far too cold out. I managed to get out of bed at 7am and quickly put on a fleece jacket and break down my campsite. It took longer than usual to break everything down due to sand covering almost everything, and the cold made me slower than usual, but I eventual was able to do it. I then got on the road to the national park.
There was no line when I got to the national park at 8am, and the visitor center did not open until 8:30, so I decided to go directly to the sand dunes. When I got out of my car, it was 44 degrees and windy (20+ mile per hour wind). It was freeing cold, but I was determined to explore the dunes. Before visiting this park, I had only seen sand dunes in movies that took place in Egypt, I could not believe what I was seeing. There was dunes hundreds of feet high to explore; and some people had brought snowboard looking devices so they could go down them. Before getting to the sand dunes, you need to cross a wide but shallow stream and I got my shoes a little too wet, but I continues onto the dunes. The winds were incredibly harsh on the dunes, it was difficult to take pictures or video because my tripod kept falling over due to the wind. But I spent about an hour exploring the area before I was too cold and decided to head back to the parking lot.
My national parks book said there was a lake in the park farther north, but you needed a four wheel drive car to reach it. When I got to the parking lot, I asked a ranger if my all wheel drive Subaru Forester would be able to make it and he said no. Apparently a jeep tried to cross the river the previous day and had to be pulled from the river because the engine got flooded with water, so they had closed the road. I ended my time in the park trying to get sand out of my shoes and clothes, and then began my three hour ride to Aspen, which will be the topic of my next blog post.