Thursday, April 8, 2010

Our wonderful weekend exploring Colorado!

My friends and I are at the age where we are all turning 30; and some of us don't take it very well. (me!)  But my hubby Josh is not fazed by this change in life.  We had wanted to take a long weekend away together for a few months now, and we thought his birthday would be a great time to go!  After some consideration we decided to spend some time in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Salida and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.  After dropping off our doggies with friends on Thursday afternoon we drove west into the mountains.  Our first stop was at the Mt Princeton Resort and Hot Springs.   After a two hour drive through the incredible Rocky Mountains we arrived at the resort around 5pm on Thursday.   The views from our room were amazing; the room looked directly at Mt. Princeton a 14,000 foot peak in the Collegiates.  After a dinner at the resort restaurant; we changed and went to check out the hot springs!  Josh and I have only been to one other hot spring since living out west, and I don't know why we haven't been to more!  Hot springs are pretty much the best thing ever!  The Mt. Princeton bath house has two large pools, one which is 100 degrees and a lap pool that is 90 degrees.  But the best part of the springs are the wading pools next to the river. 
The wading pools temperature ranged from 60 to 120 degrees and we found a very hot wading pool and sat there for hours talking and watching the stars and satellites in the sky above.   It was incredible!  After several hours and getting a little wrinkly we got out of the water and ran back to the bath-house in our bathing suits in the 30 degree temperatures.  As we walked out of the bathhouse and away from all the steam, we realized it was snowing, very hard, and we didn't notice at all with all the warm water and steam. 
The next day we drove a short distance south into Salida Colorado.  Salida is a cute little hippie town in the center of a bowl of big mountains, with the Collegiates to the north and the Sangre's to the South.  Salida is also the location where our dog died 6  years prior, after being bitten by a snake.  I have not been back to Salida since this incident and Josh had never been there, so it was great to make some new happy memories in the area.  The hotels in Salida are very cheap and we booked a hotel for $60 and then went to check out the downtown area; which is where I immediately fell in love with Salida. 
Salida's downtown area has locally owned businesses including a great fabric store called The Fringe, where I picked up some cute quilters cotton fabrics; and an awesome Brewery and Pizza place called Amicas which we visited twice, it was that good! 
I am looking forward to making new skirts with the fabric. 
We left Salida early on Saturday morning to drive farther south to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.   We drove past the Dunes a few years ago, forgoing them for some reason and I was determined to get back there!  We drove through the Sangre Valley with views of huge mountains on either side of us.  Along the way there were several touristy activities; including the UFO Watchtower and  Alligator Farm.     

The Rockies had been under a high wind warning the entire weekend, thusly eliminating our camping plans and making the sand dunes a little painful.   When looking at the dunes from far away, they look very small compared to the huge mountains behind them, but their highest peaks are over 8500 feet.  The tallest dune, called High Dune, is a 1.9 mile one way hike from the base of the dunes to the peak and we decided to climb it.  All I can say is, wow!  The dunes are made by the wind, and it was very windy that day; there were times when you would look at the dunes and they looked like they were moving because the sand swirls so much.  I can understand why people can see mirages in the sand; the dunes have huge peaks and caverns and valleys and the photos just do not show the grandeur of the dunes.   We stood on top of the tallest dune in North America with the wind whipping, it was so strong you could almost lean against it.  The views were incredible; we could see all of the Sangre's and the valley. 
The descent was my favorite in all of my hiking history; we ran down the dunes holding hands.  It took about 1.5 hours to get up and 20 minutes to get down :)   Had it not been so windy, we would have hiked the two miles to Star Peak the next tallest dune in North America.  In the photo to the right you can see teeny specs of hikers above us. 

After spending the day at the Dunes we drove south to Zapata Falls which is a glacial waterfall in a huge cave that is reached after climbing over a waterfall and walking on a frozen river into a cave.   The river was frozen so smoothly that many of the tourists slipped and fell, it was pretty comical watching people while trying not to fall with each step.  The first obstacle is climbing over the small, but very slippery, frozen waterfall.  It took Josh and I a few minutes to get over the waterfall; but then the short walk on the river into the cave is breathtaking.  I was glad we were there during the spring when the river was still frozen.  The glacial waterfall cascades from the top of the cave town to the river, it was amazing!  Several kids were climbing up the water, then falling and smacking themselves on the ice, one boy was in tears, it was very slippery!

After Zapata falls, we drove south to Fort Garland for the night.  We found a clean and very cheap motel with views of Mt. Blanca 14,300+ feet outside the back door and a great steakhouse with $2 beers across the street.  What a great way to end a fun day. 

The final day, Sunday, we were sad to head home, but decide to drive back the same route we came through the mountains.  On the way we stopped at the UFO Watchtower, which reminded me of my X-Files obsession as a tween.   The watchtower has 54 documented UFO sightings; and Judy the owner has seen about half of those herself.  She also keeps a scrapbook of the sightings and newspaper clippings of her press.  This is a really neat place to visit, and it's definitely worth the $2 per person or $5 per car admission.  There is also camping for $10 on the premises.  Josh and I promised Judy we'd be back sometime to camp in the summer. 
Next we drove back into Salida and stopped at Amica's for lunch and a beer before visiting the motel for sale we had spotted on our way out of Salida the day prior.  It's an old adobe style motel which has 14 rooms plus an office and living quarters.   Both Josh and I area   always up for a good project, and how fun would it be to run a hotel in the middle of adorable Salida? 

 We excitedly talked about the hotel adventure as we drove home to pick up our doggies from friends and unpacked from the trip.  I am looking forward to the weather warming up so we can actually camp, and hike some of the big peaks. 
Check out my hiking blog for more hiking adventures. 

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