Thursday, September 29, 2016

Great Sand Dunes

Fortunately, even though we had decided to forfeit camping near the dunes to stay longer at the West Fork campground, Larry had decided to take us on a day trip to see them anyway! backseat photography It was a 2 hour ride to get to the dunes, but there was enough conversation and scenery to keep me entertained in the back seat. First look at the dunes And I think, at this point, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

  Great Sand Dunes Nat. Monument

Great Sand Dunes Nat. Monument

Great Sand Dunes Nat. Monument

Great Sand Dunes Nat. Monument

a spot of bright color

Great Sand Dunes Nat. Monument

Great Sand Dunes Nat. Monument

Great Sand Dunes Nat. Monument

Great Sand Dunes Nat. Monument Even when we were almost back to Larry's house, I still enjoyed the scenery.

Day 8-10, with Larry and Kathy in CO

Roadside sunflowers
I love the last few miles, driving on the country roads leading up to Larry and Kathy's house.

Country road
I can't help taking pictures right from the truck, even while we're moving.  I almost have to do it while we're moving, or I'd be asking Jerry to pull over every 50 feet!

Larry's front yard
Jerry (left) and Larry in his front yard.

Larry's back yard
In Larry's back yard.  They live on about 40 acres of forest.

Front yard rainbow
Billy enjoys a rainbow from the front yard.  And a good rinsing off, courtesy of mother nature.

Back yard deer
There is always wildlife to see at Larry & Kathy's.  A couple of times, deer came to the yard.

bloody antlers
This stag was shedding the velvet on his antlers.  It was kind of bloody and gross, but also interesting to see.  I had only seen it on nature shows on TV, so it was cool to see it in real life.

bloody antlers

Skunk in Larry's yard
A skunk came to the bird-feeding area.  I guess skunks like bird seeds, too.  Larry wasn't too happy about that.  He would prefer the birds.  And there are some birds he likes better than others.  He made gun-shooting noises out the window (with his mouth, you know, like a kid would do if he were pretending to shoot at something) to chase the skunk away.

Larry's pet fox
The highlight of the wildlife viewing was the daily visitation of the foxes.  This one fox in particular has been friends with Larry for many years.  She is definitely still wild, but she trusts him.  And she eats from his hand.

Here is a video of him feeding several foxes.  I think mostly they are the almost-grown pups from the fox in the preceding photo.

Run it through Tangled FX
I took a mediocre photo, retouched and tweaked it a little, and ran it through the Tangled app on my iPad.  And now it's art!  I don't know which of the foxes this is.  Larry can tell most of them apart, and has given them names, much like Jane Goodall named the chimps she studied for so many years.  But I'd like to think this is his favorite one, called "Pooper"

Day 8, Little Billy crosses the Continental Divide

Little Billy at the Continental Divide!

Little Billy is the perfect outdoor breakfast bar!
A little while later, we stopped for our "scenic breakfast".

Little Billy is the perfect outdoor breakfast bar!

Little Billy is the perfect outdoor breakfast bar! Billy makes the perfect breakfast bar!

Day 5-7, West Fork Campground, Pagosa Springs, CO

Pagosa springs seemed like a good stopping point.  I had been googling around for likely looking camping areas, and found the East Fork and West Fork campgrounds.  I was all set to try for East Fork until I learned it would be closed for the season by the time we got there.  But West Fork would be open for another week.  A further look at a video of the campground, and a review by another camper, and I decided to put West Fork on our itinerary, with the option of moving on after one night if we didn't love it,  and heading to San Luis near the Great Sand Dunes.
controlled burn
A controlled burn on the way up. At this point, we were not too far from the campground, and I worried that the smoke would bother my already irritated and road-weary eyeballs.
It turned out to be a truly lovely and smoke-free campground.   And in fact, we liked it so much, we have decided to forego San Luis altogether, then drive straight through to Beulah. (Larry had already suggested a day trip to the dunes one day while we are there, so we won't really be missing them.)

West Fork campground 
So we spent our 2 days and 3 nights not budging, after all the preceding days of driving.  Jerry rested and fiddled with the solar panel (a challenge between the tall trees and the shifting clouds). There were, the camp host assured us, no bears, despite what it said on the signs at the park entrance. Greatly relieved, I explored the fairy-like woods around the campsite.   mossy woods 



mossy mushroom 
There was moss and mushrooms everywhere.  
I had the urge to collect sticks and build a fairy cottage.  Turned out to be more like a hut.

nearby creek 

the creek near our campsite 
There was a creek just a short walk from camp.

busy squirrel There were lots of squirrels.  We watched as they nibbled fir cones from the tops of the trees, then gathered them after they fell to the ground, cleaned them up a bit, and carried them away, one by one, to save for later.

curious chipmunk There were also chipmunks.  They were very curious, but it seemed once they were able to determine that we weren't going to feed them anything, they wanted nothing to do with us.

Baby horned lizard
I was delighted to see several tiny baby horny toads near camp, during the brief periods of warmth and sunshine in the middle of the day. 
quarter sized
I obliged this one to pose for me next to a quarter.

The weather was pretty good.  It rained a little in the afternoons, and one day there was a thunderstorm with a crack of lightning so close, it made me scream!  But compared to what was to come, this was nothing we couldn't handle.  We made a fire every night, and we would spend the evenings warming ourselves by it, and wishing we had brought marshmallows.

By the way, our camp host was excellent. He was an older man who had been living in the campground since July, and was counting the hours until the park would be closing and he could return home to his ranch, some 6 hours drive away.  In the meantime, he made his daily rounds in his little cart, checking on us and the other 2 or 3 campsites that actually had people in them, and keeping the vault toilets clean.  He actually mopped the floors in them every day.  And after someone checked out, he would go right to their campsite, make sure it was clean, and he raked the dirt area around the firepit into zen-like orderliness.  I was amazed.  I told him we would love to return some day, and hoped to see him again, but he assured us that this was a one-time thing for him and he would not be coming back, at least not as a host.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Day 4: To Monument Valley, UT

This was actually the first planned stop with showers.  It was also another "city campground", although it wasn't really in a city, but the whole "resort complex", which consisted of hotels, cabins, stores, and our campground, was almost a little town all by itself.

Gouldings is nestled in the red hills just outside of Monument Valley.  It is one of the few campgrounds in the area, and it's pretty touristy.  We only stayed for one night. Monument Valley
A scenic parking lot of big RV's.

Monument Valley And us.

Monument Valley The plan was to leave before dawn the next morning, to watch the sunrise over the land, away from all the crowds. I was actually surprised that there weren't more people stopped on the side of the road doing just what we were doing.

Breakfast viewMonument Valley  Once the sun was up, we moved on a little bit, and found that the warm glow of the sun against the mountains to the west of us made for the perfect roadside stop for breakfast. All we needed to do was open up Billy's galley and help ourselves to some fruit and yogurt. Then we were back on the road, headed for Pagosa Springs, CO

Day 2-3, The Grand Canyon

How did I get to be this old, living in the West all my life, and never seeing the Grand Canyon?  Well, now I can say I've seen it.
Campsite at Ten X
Our campsite at Ten X campground, just outside of park boundaries.

Now, this felt more like camping.  Out amongst the tall trees. (and Jerry backed in to this space like a boss!)  We set up the cottonwood shelter, because there was supposedly an 80% chance of rain, which never materialized, thank goodness.)

Our first big wildlife critter
We saw this huge elk as we were walking through the campground. This was the only photo we got of him. Jerry didn't even have his camera with him at the time.

  Grand Canyon The view of the Grand Canyon was beautiful and inspiring, as I expected it would be. But, as with so many popular "bucket list" National Park destinations, it was greatly overpopulated. You can't tell from this picture, but there were lots of people, from all over the world, judging by the languages I was hearing. I do not begrudge anyone the chance to travel and see the wonders of the world. I just enjoy it more in solitude. It becomes a more personal experience, rather than a shared one. To that end, we kind of made it a thing to try to have our breakfast or lunch in out of the way, private, scenic areas. This was the first. Deceptively close to a bunch of people closer to the parking area, but a short walk along a trail took us to an area just as lovely, but with no people.

  Grand Canyon

Billy's first sticker
Another thing I decided to do was get a souvenir sticker for Billy wherever I could. This was his first one.

  Sticker in the galley
I stuck it in the galley.