Monday, May 23, 2016

Mount Blanca--A Navajo Sacred Mountain




When my husband and I left the Great Sand Dune National Park (see part one blog post here, and part two blog post about these amazing sand dunes here) we traveled CO 150 South on our way towards the town of Alamosa, about 38 miles away from the park. (All photos in this post will enlarge if clicked on)


I love road side "places of interest" or "historical markers" and often stop to see what they say. I was very glad to have stopped at this one which pointed out that the tall mountain peak in the distance was Mount Blanca.


Click on photo to enlarge to see what was written on the placard.


Mount Blanca is the fourth highest summit of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. At 14,351 feet (4,374 m) it is the highest summit of the Sangre de Cristo Range.


The Navajo Native Americans called this mountain Sisnaajini (White Shell mountain). The Navajos believed it was one of the four sacred mountain peaks of the Navajo Land and a sacred mountain placed in the east, the doorway to Navajo Land, because the sun rises in the east and the day begins there. They believed the First man and the First Woman, together with the Yei'i (Holy People) made the mountain with white shells, white lightening and rain clouds and gave it positive thoughts. You can read more about the Navajo beliefs about Mt. Blanca on this link.


It was named Mount Blanca by the Spanish explorers in 1598.  By then the Navajo tribes had moved further west and the predominant Native Americans living in the area were the Utes. They entered this region with their domesticated dogs pulling their belongings, and found the San Luis Valley rich hunting grounds for bison, elk mule deer, fish and plants. When they first saw the Spaniards riding in on horses they thought the horses were "magic dogs."  When the Utes acquired horses their warriors became skilled riders and they fought off  European conquest in the San Luis Valley of Colorado until the early 19th century.


Another historical placard at this road pull off site, told about the Southwestern expedition lead by Lt. Zebulon Pike in 1806-7.  He and his men were captured by the Spanish in this area and held captive in Chihuahua, Mexico for awhile until they were released in 1807.


When I looked up at the high peak of Mt. Blanca I thought about the many eyes who marveled at this sight over the thousands of years before me, and the many who will gaze at it in the future. It sits as a silent and majestic sentinel of time. 



One last look at the beautiful Sangre De Cristo Mountain range in southern Colorado. It is another area that has won my heart in this great state.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Great Sand Dunes National Park, Part Two



In my last post (click here to read that post) I brought you to our recent visit to The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, located in southern Colorado.  It is one of four national parks located in Colorado. The others are the Rocky Mountain National Park, which we've visited multiple times, Mesa Verde National Park and The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parkwhich we have visited once, but hope to also see them again many times.  Each park contains magnificent beauty and diverse geologic and ecologic features, while Meas Verde showed the marvels of an ancient native civilization structures in a vast canyon's walls. My husband and I have visited many other of the USA's National Parks over the years, and many more are on our list to see. We are happy that our country has preserved these wonders of nature for future generations to see! ( Al photos will enlarge if clicked on)


The Great Sand Dunes National Park has to be one of the most unusual parks to visit. It is far from large cities and accessibility can be challenging. There is a visitor center on site with bathrooms, and there are limited motels/hotels near the park and some campgrounds in and around the park.  We drove from the Denver area to the park in about 4 hours and after visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park we stayed the night in a hotel in the town of Alamosa, around 38 miles away.


The visitors center for the park is at 8,200 feet elevation at the base of the dunes, so not only do you have to prepared for the elevation, but the fact that weather in the park can be very variable. There are often high winds in spring, and March and April are the snowiest months. In summer, the air temperature can reach 80 degrees F, while the temperature of the sand on the dunes can reach 150 degrees F. In summer, after the sun goes down, the air temperature can drop to 40 degrees F.

But don't let these challenges defray you from planning a visit to the park. Probably late spring or early fall are the optimal times to come, and if you come in summer plan on an early morning visit before the heat of the day. You can check the park's weather on this link.


The Medano Creek that runs in front of the dunes is only seen in early to late spring, as it is the result of snow melt in the mountains. Our visit was at the end of April, so the creek was still shallow enough for us to walk across with our shoes on, but it increases in depth as the season goes on and children often delight in swimming and playing in it.


I ended my Part One post with our reaching Medano Creek, and now I'll take you forward as we approach the dunes.


It was interesting to see the different qualities of the sand as we walked towards the dunes.  The sand close to the creek was full of rocks and pebbles.


A close up

This sand is made up mainly from the close by Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and therefore between the wind and water, larger particles of sand and pebbles accumulate.


The closer you walk to the dunes the sand becomes fine grained and very deep and soft. You can see how people's foot prints sink into the sand.


Most of the 30 miles of sand dune field is made up of sand that originated from the far westerly San Juan Mountains. From there it was washed by streams into the vast San Luis Valley. From there southwesterly winds blew, bounced and pushed the grains up against the Sangre de Christo Moutians, where it formed the tallest sand dune formations in North America!


I was excited to begin our hike!  Here the dunes are ahead...


....and from the same point is my husband with Medano Creek behind him.


In the distance you can see the tops of the 14,000 foot San Juan Mountains in the distance to the left, and the vast sand dune field all around us.


 People in the foreground look like small specks on the sand.


As we climb in elevation the challenge of walking on the dunes become more and more apparent to us.


There are many hills and crests to conquer and we begin to feel defeated by both the soft sand grabbing at our ankles like quicksand, and the constant wind whipping around us


The elevation of the dunes seemed never ending.


I would catch glimpses of people reaching the top, which would spur me on...



...but both my husband and I were beginning to realize we probably would not be able to reach the xenith of the top dunes, as we were struggling with fatigue.


At that point we stopped and just took in the beauty of the height we reached.


We looked in all directions and felt exalted by this wonder of nature!


Mountains were all around us, both far and near.





So, how far did we hike? If you enlarge the photo above you can see I marked the dune we stopped on with an "x"  It took us about an our and a half to reach this point.


Here I am at that point--red from the intense sun, wind and exertion of walking in soft sand.  Below is a video I posted on my Mille Fiori Favorit facebook page from that place on the dunes. Click here to go to the facebook page if you do not see the video plugin below.


As you can hear in the video, the wind was strong the day of our visit and it was one of the factors that inhibited our hike. I was worried about sand blowing into my eyes and lungs. I think I'd be better prepared if I return again by wearing more wrap around sunglasses and bringing a face mask and tie on sun hat.  Although the park claims it is less windy than the city of Chicago, Spring is often the windy season


Still, I was thrilled that we made it as far on our hike as we did and that I enjoyed these magnificent sights!


It felt like we were on another world, and seeing sights I never dreamed I would see!


On our way back toward the bottom of the dunes we stopped a few minutes to watch both children and adults use special sand boards to ride down the dunes, both sledding and sand boarding.


Sitting on the board to ride down a dune looked like fun! The special boards have to be rented or bought at nearby retailers--they are NOT available in the park. Click here to read about rentals.


I took one last look at where I had hoped to hike, as I knew that the entire dune field could be seen from the very top of the highest dunes.  Maybe on my next visit I'll be able to get there.


We were still very happy to have accomplished what we did and enjoy our first visit to The Great Sand Dune National Park and Preserve. They are ever changing, but always staying the same, totally unique and unexpected.

After our overnight stay in Alamosa we journeyed east towards the vast plains of Colorado, where we wanted to visit two National Historic sites. More about those interesting and poignant places on a future post!

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Thank you to all the blog hosts!


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