The week of June 30th-ish, 2014

Rio Grande National Forest

See all our week of June 30th-ish photographs here.

A hectic 1,208 miles of towing week. It started when we left Pomona State Park on the 27th. Our goal was simple – to escape humidity and bugs by getting to elevation.

The entire itinerary was unplanned. We stopped when and where we wanted, which worked out more or less.

We were also lucky enough to stop at two National Parks: Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde. We drove past, but did not stop at, the Sand Creek massacre site. If I had known the historical significance (shame on me) I would have certainly stopped.

The dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Park are the tallest in North America, as high as 750 feet and very stable. Comparing today to a 1874 photograph reveals the dunes have changed very little in over 100 years. The immediate – immediate being over 400,000 years ago – cause of their formation was wind action that piles sand from the the San Luis valley floor up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This process continues today.

The valley itself is the size of Connecticut and is pleasant to drive across. On the one side are the volcanically created San Juan Mountains, on the other the uplifted Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with the Rio Grande flowing through the sand and scrub in between. The valley was once a huge lake — Lake Alamosa. That ancient lake bed is the floor of the valley today. Every time we drive across we see small, localized, dust storms.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

One theory concludes that the lake ultimately breached the valley with the ensuing torrent forming the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico, which we drove through on our way to Taos in May.

All of this information was lifted from the National Park Service.

As we spend more time in Colorado the geography and history of this state become more fascinating. The area we have been exploring most recently has been the south western portion – Durango, Pagosa Springs, Alamosa, following US 160. The geography is stunning but I also enjoy observing the history and culture change with the landscape.

Most of what we have been spending time in was Spanish and subsequently Mexican territory until the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The town of San Luis is the oldest in Colorado, established in 1851 by settlers from New Mexico. At this time the area was still part of the New Mexico Territory.

Interestingly, this shows the area was still being settled by Spanish descendants even after the area moved under US control. That Spanish influence is still real today. You see it in the place names, people, cuisine and architecture to a more limited degree. As we were driving from east to west it began in southwest Kansas, and to me it marks the passage from the Midwest to the Southwest.

We also enjoyed three fantastic nights “wild camping” in the Rio Grande National Forest. Our Airstream experience has been transformed by our confidence to go without hookups. streamer_j has committed to writing more about boon docking and I have another post brewing on this.

– Anthony, Cheyenne Mountain State Park & Pike National Forest, Colorado

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