Black Canyon, Brown Sands: Day 5

As we prepared to leave the Black Canyon area to head towards Great Sand Dunes, we took a few hours to simply relax, read The New York Times, blog, and enjoy brunch. We pulled out of Montrose in the mid-afternoon and began our 185-mile trek to Alamosa, the “gateway” to Great Sand Dunes. Our destination: Base Camp Family Campground & RV Park, about 7 miles outside of town.

The trip took us through the Curecanti National Recreation Area, Gunnison National Forest, and Rio Grande National Forest, offering scenic vistas along winding mountain roads. We so enjoy traveling through the mountains. But we were disappointed that we didn’t see any wildlife.

Alamosa is a small city with about 10,000 residents that was once an important rail center. Situated in the San Luis Valley, with the San Juan Mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east, the city today is mostly a tourist destination, with many attractions nearby.

Base Camp is a relatively new campground that prides itself on offering views not only of the surrounding 14,000-foot peaks, but also of the Great Sand Dunes themselves. The camp is at the heart of the San Luis Valley, the largest high-desert alpine valley in the world. For native American tribes, including the Utes, Apache, Navajos, and others, this valley is considered a sacred place, a sipapu, or place of emergence, where humans and spirits enter and leave the world. In fact, the valley was considered so sacred, that no war could be waged here. Instead, the tribes would pass each other in peace.

Upon arrival, we immediately knew this would be an experience like no other. With no grass and only newly-planted trees, it was difficult to distinguish the campground, with its high-desert shrubs and sand, from the surrounding terrain. We set up just in time to enjoy the sun setting behind the mountains to the west and then, a few minutes later, the full moon rising from behind the mountains to the east. This particular full moon, known as the “corn moon,” occurs once every three years, and was given its name by the Algonquin tribes because they could harvest corn by its spectacular light.

We kept our regular Wednesday night telephone visit with Jon’s mom, while Cliff grilled chicken, squash and corn. After supper, we caught up on the national news and then dropped into bed, exhausted, but also excited about the next day’s visit to the dunes.