Trip Reports: Dunes And Sangres, Colorado - June 2012

This last weekend we went on a little road trip to the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado, followed by a couple nights of camping and hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We arrived at the dunes in the afternoon on Friday and started the hike into the dunes under a sky full of wild ominous clouds, along with sandblasting winds.

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, June, clouds, photo

Stormy Dunes

Ominous clouds brew over the Great Sand Dunes, Colorado - June.

With the heavy clouds above and a clear horizon to the west, I knew that we were in store for a special sunset. I was not disappointed! We found a high west facing dune with a nice vista over the ocean of sand, and waited in the wind until the sun dipped below the clouds and illuminated the scene with intense sunset light. Pretty freaking amazing…

Great Sand Dunes, sunset, Colorado, fiery, Sangre de Cristo, photo

Fiery Dunes Sunset

A fiery sunset over the Great Sand Dunes with the Sangre de Cristo mountains behind - June.

After sunset the clouds cleared and the wind calmed down enough for us to stroll around under the moonlight and enjoy our bottle of wine! Not the best night of sleep, though, with sand blowing in our sleeping bags for most of the night. But it’s hard to beat waking up in the middle of the dunes on a glorious bluebird morning!

camping, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, June, photo

Waking up on a glorious blue sky morning in the dunes - June.

I was excited to show Claudia the Great Sand Dunes, one of my favorite places on the planet. She was impressed, and is already looking forward to our next visit.

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, hiking, photo

Hiking in the Great Sand Dunes, Colorado.

Medano Creek, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, hiking, photo

After scorching and sanding our bare feet on the hike out of the dunes, the walk up the cool waters of Medano Creek was pure bliss.

Colorado, Sangre de Cristos, hiking, photo

Hiking into the Sangre de Cristo Range to Willow Lake.

A short drive later, and after a great lunch at the Shambala Cafe in Crestone, we re-packed our backpacks and headed to Willow Lake in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Colorado, Sangre de Cristos, bighorn sheep, photo

Bighorn sheep near Willow Lake.

We spent two nights camping near the lake. A pack of bighorn sheep calls this place home and provided lots of entertaining wildlife watching, along with the marmots, pikas, deer, and song birds. Spring is in the air!

Kit Carson, fourteener, Sangre de Cristo, Colorado, photo

A view of the massive southwestern face of Kit Carson - 14,165 ft - as seen from the ridge below Challenger Peak.  The standard route up this fourteener follows the snow-filled ledge around the right side of the peak.

My goal was to climb Kit Carson Mountain, a 14,165 ft. fourteener that I have never climbed before. Upon reaching the 14,080 ft. summit of neighboring Challenger Point, I saw that the standard route up Kit Carson (a narrow ledge that wraps around the summit block) was full of snow, and therefore impassible to me without crampons or ice axe. Even with snow equipment, the route would be extremely dicey with the massive exposure below. You can see the route in the photo above – it’s the ledge that’s full of snow and traverses up to the right. I guess I’ll have to come back some other day.

Colorado, Sangre de Cristos, Willow Lake, canoe, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, photo

Willow Lake Canoe

A canoe on the shore of Willow Lake.

On our last morning, we went for a joyride in a canoe that was docked at the lake. So much fun… Whoever brought that thing up there – you rock! We paddled around the lake, checked out the big waterfall, stalked the sheep from the water, and generally enjoyed the morning before being scared away by the growing thunderclouds. A great end to a great weekend!

Colorado, Sangre de Cristos, Willow Lake, canoe, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, photo

Canoeing on Willow Lake in the Sangre de Cristo Range, Colorado.