Lowering the pressure in our tires might have helped a bit but it did not help enough. We still found ourself stuck in soft grayish sand on the way to the Medano Lake trailhead. And this time we actually did not try anything stupid. It was not our idea to drive here. I could not even get angry at Natalia who is usually responsible for pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone. This time it was a super nice and extra friendly park ranger. He suggested we try driving unimproved road since wind was too strong to hike the open dunes. I distinctly remember him telling us you can turn back at any point.
Well we surely cannot turn back now: the road is barely wide enough for our truck and we are smack in the middle of it. And did I mention we could not move? We passed a place called the Point of No Return couple of miles back but we did not take the name literally. And the ranger did see our truck, even asked us if it it was 4 by 4. I guess he neglected to ask whether we carry absolutely everything we own on the bed. It’s packed really well this time, which unfortunately does not make it lighter. Oh well. Looks like our truck has an extra trick up her sleeve. Low 4 wheel drive gear which Natalia tells me how to use after reading user’s manual. Meanwhile I panic quietly. After ascertaining that you are relatively safe panicking is not a bad option. A secret gear, once we learn how to switch in on correctly, works flawlessly pulling us from the sandy spot. We are overjoyed for a mile. And then we see a creek flowing across the road. And a sign with some sage advise to proceed slowly lest our engine be drowned.
This is a bit too much. At least too much for the first day on the road. A month from now I can start doing crazy things like driving across the river. Today I just want some old fashioned hiking. So after perfunctory checks and short discussion on the topic how deep exactly is the water we are seeing here, we decide to cross the creek on foot over the fallen tree. Finally and against an opinion of better informed we do get to hike in this unusual place.
Normally dunes just travel in the endless procession fed by new sand. What we have here is a nature’s sandy perpetuum mobile. There is a constant amount of sand but it’s recycled continuously. Whatever spills over the far end is carried back by couple of streams flowing from Sangre de Christo mountains. No amount of careless hiking and happy sliding will impact the cycle. So we try it with clear conscience. And while our conscience remains clear our faces, ears, hair and teeth are quickly covered by sand blown by 30 miles an hour winds. We don’t mind. Views are incredible and on couple of occasions we are joined by a mule deer oblivious to our presence.
It’s late afternoon when exhausted and very dirty we leave the park. Tires are re-inflated and we switch to our evening attire. Nothing fancy, just street shoes and clean T-shirts. And then Natalia, remembering she is not responsible for any of the daily misfortunes yet, suggests we check out nearby falls. I agree. It’s just I don’t think I need to change back into the hiking boots. Big mistake. The trail is easy if a tad steep. But when we get to the falls it turns out that some wading upstream is required to actually see the falls. Casual activity involving jumping from one slick stone to another sleek stone renders my shoes worse then useless. My pirouettes on the other hand are improving with each near miss of a landing. I want to give up but Natalia does not let me. And of course she is right, when we finally sneak into the cavernous rift the falls unwillingly present themselves: surely spectacular at any time of year, in May they look even more unusual since one half is still frozen.
We manage to miss on dinner that night. At 9pm all restaurants in Walsenburg, Colorado are closed. Briefly we are contemplating fast food option. But new shiny KFC is also closed and the place at the gas station is just a bit too much. Well, dinner’s overrated. Great Sand Dunes and Zapata Falls are not.